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Chuck Pollock: St. Bonaventure primed for strong finish after Bonnies complete sweep of UMass

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

It’s likely, since the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team doesn’t play until Wednesday night at George Washington, the Bonnies’ hopes of earning the double bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, March 12-17 in Brooklyn, will be dashed.

Virginia Commonwealth, a team Bona swept in two regular-season games, needed to win only one of its last three games to lock up fourth and the last double-bye spot.

What’s odd is, the Bonnies, 18-10, 9-7, have become the poster team for A-10 balance.

They lost to first-place Richmond and runner-up Dayton on the road but beat third-place Loyola of Chicago in emphatic fashion on Tuesday night at the Reilly Center and VCU twice, once rallying from a 20-point deficit.

They also swept sixth-place UMass but Bona lost twice to Duquesne and fell to Fordham at the RC and to LaSalle in Philadelphia, three teams with losing conference records.

Still, even if VCU wrecks Bona’s double-bye hopes, coach Mark Schmidt’s team is assured of a single bye that goes to teams which finish 5th through 9th.

MEANWHILE, he’s constantly questioned about his team’s inconsistent performance, but for a stretch of eight non-conference wins in a span of nine games in November and December.

In the A-10 season, the Bonnies have neither won nor lost more than two straight games, though they’ve currently won two in a row — at UMass and home against Loyola — and are positioned to make it four straight with a game at George Washington Wednesday night and at home a week from Saturday against Saint Louis, two teams tied for last in the A-10.

If Bona sweeps the last two, they would head into the conference tournament on a roll having won six of its last seven games.

“This league is really difficult … it’s really hard,” Schmidt said. “Some people underestimate it … (it has) really good coaches … really good players. You’ve got to play your ‘A’ game to win.

“I wish all our games were at home … we’d probably have a better record … it’s hard to win on the road. Some days you’re going to play well and some days you’re not. We didn’t play well against LaSalle and they played well and (a loss is) what happened. You’re not going to have your best every night. It’s like work … sometimes you have bad days. The problem is, when we have bad days, everybody knows.”

He pointed out, though, “We’re (18-10), so we’re doing something right. You’re always going to have your bad games … unless you have a special season, and very few teams have a special season.  You’re going to have some ups and downs, ebbs and flows.

“We’ve never played well at LaSalle. Ever. We’ve had teams that have lost at LaSalle and won at Dayton. Just like the other day, we lost at LaSalle and won at UMass. It’s college basketball.”

As for the 15-point win over Loyola, which came into the game tied for the league lead, Schmidt said, “We beat a really good team … really talented, veteran guys, well-coached. But our guys stepped it up, answered the bell and played really hard. And if we play hard like that, it gives us a chance in every game.”

BESIDES the impressive win over the Ramblers, there was a personal milestone for the 17th-year coach, his 300th victory at St. Bonaventure.  

“I’ve been here a really long time … and I’m old (61 in February),” said Schmidt, who surpassed Larry Weise’s previous school record of 202 wins during the 2018-19 season. “I tell the team all the time, coaches don’t win games, players win games. I’ve never seen a good team with bad players. But I’ve also said, coaches don’t lose games either.

“It’s all about players and we’ve had really good ones and I’ve been really lucky to be able to coach these guys. They win, that’s why I’m still here … that’s why I haven’t been fired, because players win games.”

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

Read more from Chuck:

Feature on the Bonnies as the season winds down

• 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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