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Pollock: Countdown begins for St. Bonaventure Bonnies to grab No. 4 seed

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By CHUCK POLLOCK, Senior Senior Sports Columnist

It would be a stretch to suggest that had the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lost to Davidson Saturday afternoon at the Reilly Center before a sellout Alumni Weekend crowd,  the season, for all intents, would be over.

After all, each of the 15 Atlantic 10 teams is guaranteed a spot in the conference’s  championship tournament.

Still, positioning is important.

In the preseason poll, coach Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies were picked third which, if form held, would earn them a double bye at the tourney’s start.

However, with five or six games to play, most every team is starting to do the math.

That’s why the 82-81 overtime victory against the Wildcats was so important … and it didn’t come easily.

Bona had to endure a near two-minute video review of Connor Kochera’s could-be, game-tying three-pointer that would have sent the game to a second OT.

When the review finally determined Kochera’s toe was on the line and the clutch hoop was a two rather than a trey, reaction among the alums was more relief than revelry.

Afterward, Schmidt, referencing the super-long review, acknowledged,  “It was torture, I don’t know what they were looking at and why it took that long but I think the Franciscans made that (three-point) line a little bit wider …  thank God that line was a little bit thicker.”

Schmidt well knew the value of the win.

“Davidson is a good team and played so many teams hard.” His reference was to the fact that hidden in the Wildcats 14-11 record were eight losses by five points or fewer, three in overtime.

IT ALSO made the point Schmidt has preached since the season began; that the Atlantic 10 is the most competitive higher-level league in men’s college hoops, top-to-bottom.

The Bonnies, 16-9, are in fifth-place in the A-10 at 7-6, three games behind Virginia Commonwealth in fourth (9-3), a team it has beaten twice this season, but which still has to lose three more times to sneak into fourth place and that double bye.

Less than two weeks ago, when UMass invaded the RC under second-year coach Frank Martin, whose career includes 10 seasons at South Carolina, six at Kansas State and two at Cincinnati, admitted he was still getting acclimated to the Atlantic 10.

“I’ve been in leagues with unbelievable teams but every league has a top, middle and bottom … this league has no bottom and even the top, Dayton, Loyola Chicago and Richmond are separated a little bit, but every game they play comes down to the wire … every game in this league is hard and that’s a credit to the kids and the coaches.”

Indeed, two of the Bonnies’ most hurtful losses have been to Duquesne, 5-7.

AT TIMES, Schmidt’s crew has been an enigma.

“We make some good plays and then we make some really bad plays,” he said. “We start fast, then we have lulls.”

And sometimes they don’t start fast.

VCU led by 20 with two minutes left in the first half at the RC before the Bonnies rallied for a 67-62 win. A week later, UMass was up 13 with four minutes to play prior to  intermission before succumbing, 79-73.

“It was just another Atlantic 10 game,” Martin said afterward. “Every single one comes into the final media timeout. I asked Mark before the game, ‘Is this the way the league has always been?’ 

“You don’t go into a (team’s building) that’s well-coached and which is the oldest team in the country in a great environment and think they’re going to run out the back door and let us run away with a win.”

He added,  “The biggest problem with a freshman compared to old guys is that freshmen don’t understand the detail of a scouting report … the game starts and they just play, they don’t comprehend scouting reports. Older guys, you give them a scouting report, you expect them to understand (it).”

IT WASN’T quite as heavy a lift for the Bonnies on Saturday against Davidson, but they still trailed by seven at the 15-minute mark before fighting back.

“We don’t quit … we have some competitive guys and character guys and we make plays when we need to make plays,” Schmidt said. “We’re not executing as well as we can … we play well at times and get off to a great start, then we go into a lull, We’ve got to be better in our execution. We share the ball, we don’t have selfish guys, but we’ve got to continue to get better.”

Bona has five games left to do it.

There are road contests at LaSalle (3-10) and UMass, Wednesday and Saturday of this week, then conclude with home meetings against Loyola (11-2) and Saint Louis (2-10) sandwiched around a visit to George Washington (3-9).

The Bonnies figure to be favored against LaSalle, Saint Louis and GW with UMass a tossup and Loyola getting a slight edge at the RC.

Trouble is, they likely have to win all five and still have to root for VCU to conjure three defeats to win that crucial No. 4 seed.

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

Read more from Chuck:

• What to make from the Super Bowl

• 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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