ST. BONAVENTURE — For the last six days, it’s only grown in immensity.
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team collected its biggest victory of the season last Saturday and took care of Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday to bring a five-game win streak into tonight.
Check and check.
The Bonnies did their part to remain third in the Atlantic 10 standings, moved to within a game of second with Rhode Island’s loss to Dayton and received additional help on Wednesday, with George Mason knocking off VCU on the road, making for slightly more breathing room in the top four.
And now, the stage, as they say, is set.
Bona (17-8, 9-3), currently amid a familiar February run, has put itself in the best possible position with three home games, plus its league bye week, on the horizon. It now gets one of the A-10’s traditionally toughest teams, before a rabid Reilly Center audience, on national television.
Those will be the circumstances when Bona meets Davidson in the A-10’s version of “Monday Night Football” tonight on ESPN2 (WPIG-FM, WHDL-AM).
“THE KIDS have done a really good job of making this game that much more important,” coach Mark Schmidt said. “The excitement that we have around town and on campus is good; that’s all because of what (our guys) done. But at the same time, it’s the next game and we’ve got to go out there and we’ve got to execute.”
The Bonnies, now 30-7 in February since 2015, have gotten used to playing these kinds of big-time games down the stretch. They’ve also become a regular on the Friday night ESPN2 platform, topping No. 16 Rhode Island for a resounding win in 2018 while falling to Davidson in this contest last season.
Bona can take another big step in securing a coveted “double bye” tonight against the Wildcats, who were chosen to finish second in the preseason poll after returning star guards Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady, but have been surprisingly average (12-11, 6-5) in practice.
What’s the air around the locker room like at this time of the year?
“(I) feel like it gives us another sense of urgency and just pushes everybody to make sure they’re staying in the gym on top of everything that we need to do,” senior Amadi Ikpeze said. “Coach always tells us that there’s some teams in the league that their season is over, so their job is to ruin other teams that are still playing for something …
“So (it’s) just keeping that in the back of our minds and just every day when we come to practice, just having that approach of we’ve got to keep building and not let other teams ruin our season, what we got going.”
BONA, in addition to a sixth-straight triumph, has a couple of other boxes it can check tonight: With a win, the Bonnies would tie the 1982-83 team for the program’s best record through 13 A-10 games. It can also extend its league-best streak of consecutive 10-plus win seasons to six.
In order to do that, it’ll have to navigate one of the few A-10 teams that has had the Bonnies’ number of late, and not vice versa: Davidson.
For as underwhelming as they’ve been on the year, the Wildcats have begun to heat up, winning four of their last six, including a 79-49 pasting of Fordham on Tuesday night. Their only losses in that stretch: a four-overtime heartbreaker at George Washington and a 73-62 setback at VCU.
FOR SCHMIDT’S team, the task will largely be to stop noted Bona-killers Gudmundsson and Grady. In five meetings since 2017-18, Grady is averaging a gaudy 26 points against the Bonnies while Gudmundsson, the reigning A-10 Player of the Year, has notched 16 a night. Behind them, the Wildcats have drilled an incredible 71 3-pointers (14 per game) in that stretch.
Despite its inconsistencies, Davidson is once again at the forefront in that area, leading the conference in 3-point field percentage and 3s per game.
“They shoot the ball well, they run a great motion offense,” Schmidt said of coach Bob McKillop’s team, which has won six of the last seven in the series (Bona’s only win in that span was its wild 117-113 triple OT triumph in 2018), “but it’s not just the 3s, it’s the back cuts, it’s the layups they get off of their motion. We have to do a much better job of defending them beyond the arc and, more importantly, try to keep the ball in front of us.”
He added: “But they’ve hit some big shots. Here last year, they hit some deep shots (in a 75-66 victory) that we contested, and you can’t do much about that. They have a good team, good players, good shooters, so that’s going to happen sometimes. We’ve just got to do the best job you can defending them and contesting shots, and hope they miss.”
BACK HOME for the next two weeks, Bona will play a trio of top 100 opponents, per KenPom, in Davidson (No. 85), Richmond (No. 57, following an eight-day layoff) and Duquesne (No. 89). For as challenging as that segment will be, however, all three come in the comfortable confines of the RC.
With still so much to play for, does that push these contests close to the ‘must win’ category?
“For sure,” Ikpeze said, “especially just being at the RC, you always want to protect the home court, and just knowing that we’re going to have the fans and the students backing us these next three games, that’s just added confidence for us to just go out there and execute the game plan and just do what we need to do.”