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Pollock: After St. Bonaventure win, have the struggling Bonnies found their way?

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Senior Sun Columnist

OLEAN – Three days into 2024, it seemed the St. Bonaventure basketball team was en route to fulfilling coach Mark Schmidt’s optimism.

His Bonnies had completed a solid 9-3 non-conference schedule and rode a 7-1 streak into its Atlantic 10 opener against tough-to-beat-at-home Virginia Commonwealth, tabbed for No. 2  in the 15-team conference’s preseason poll.

But, alas, St. Bonaventure, the No. 3 seed, spanked the Rams 89-78 on their home floor in a game that wasn’t that close.

Then, however, the  Bonnies’ season took a turn south.

A road loss at Richmond and a home defeat by Fordham, interrupted by a Reilly Center victory over Rhode Island, was followed by consecutive losses to George Mason and Duquesne away from the RC.

SUDDENLY,  Schmidt’s team, which he predicted, before the season, would be “pretty good,” was struggling along at 11-7, 2-4 in the A-10.

Then came last Friday back home against 13-5 Saint Joseph’s, the No. 5  Atlantic 10 preseason seed. After taking a tense 45-41 halftime lead, the Bonnies put together  one of their best 20-minute stretches of the season en route to a 91-72 victory.

“It was a great bounce-back game, our guys showed a lot of character” Schmidt said afterward. “You’re not going to play well all the time, our guys had a dud the last two games. You’re going to have some adversity in life and it was a great lesson.  We had been struggling and we couldn’t have played better.

“You need to win all of your home games or the majority of them, you’ve got to protect your home court, and you’ve got to steal a couple on the road. You’re never gonna win six or seven on the road. You win eight or nine at home and three or four on the road and then you’re in good shape. We’ve had a tough schedule … there’s only one other (Atlantic 10) team that’s been on the road four of the first six games. Now we have three of the next four at home. Hopefully we can play well … there’s no guarantee we’ll win, but you play better at home. This (win)  was big coming off two losses.”

In that victory, Bona had a rarity, three 20-point scorers: redshirt senior guard Daryl Banks III, who had struggled with his shooting virtually all season, suddenly turned back into the player he was for St. Peter’s in the 2022 NCAA Tournament,  scoring 29 including seven treys, Hartford transfer Moses Flowers went for 23 and Chad Venning, from Morgan State, added 21.

“That’s what we need,” Schmidt said of scoring balance. “We struggled the last two games,  you play Duquesne and hold them to 54 points, you play George Mason and you hold them to 69 points, that’s under their average and if you do anything offensively you have a shot … we had a shot at both of those games, even though we didn’t play well offensively.

 “The guys played with grit and passion and looked like they were enjoying themselves. When the ball is going in, everything looks good. We were 12-for-27 (on treys), if we were 3-of-27 people would have been complaining we were shooting too many threes because they’re not going in. We played Bonaventure basketball, I’m proud of their effort, their execution and their response coming back from two not very good games.”

PART II came Tuesday night back at the Reilly Center.

Two minutes before halftime, the Bonnies trailed by 20 points as VCU was deadly, shooting 54% from the field and 10-of-15 on treys.

“We didn’t play very well in the first half and VCU had a lot to do with it, they shot the heck out of it,” Schmidt said after Bona’s impressive 67-62 comeback win. “The key to the game was the last two minutes of the first half when we got some stops and cut the lead from 20 to 13 … that gave us a fighting chance in the second half.

“At halftime, it wasn’t me going crazy … we’ve got a mature team and I think they knew  that if a team shoots 10-of-15 on threes,  you’re not going to win. I thought we did a great job in the second half, they made one three (in 14 attempts) and shot 25% (from the field). I told them after the game, ‘That’s life, there are going to be times when things aren’t going to go your way, you’re going to get knocked down and you’ve gotta get up, you’ve gotta fight,’ and that’s what we did. It couldn’t have been better  … we blue-collared it.”

When asked what the dramatic win meant to his now 13-7 team  (4-4 A-10), Schmidt said, “You take that you’re never out of the game, we’ve got character guys. We’ve got tough guys who are never going to quit. We showed we’re a team, we stuck together, there wasn’t any crying or complaining on the bench, we just played. When guys went in, they produced. Some teams I’ve coached, as an assistant, down by 20, it’s over, they’re not coming back. We played hard in the second half and we deserved to win.

“As I tell the team all the time, ‘You win with defense and rebounding.’ In league play, the games are going to be ugly, not always pretty games. The St. Joe’s game was pretty, (VCU) was more of a rock fight,” he added.

But when asked whether the last two games would give the Bonnies some momentum going into Friday night’s game at top-seeded  Dayton  (17-3, 7-1), Schmidt was brief: “Momentum  ends when the ball goes up at 7 o’clock.”

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net)

More from Chuck:

A look at free agency with the Buffalo Bills

• Don’t blame Bass for the playoff loss

• St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt was right about the Atlantic 10 and the Bonnies

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