BRONX — It has all the makings of a “get right” game for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.
The Bonnies (12-8, 4-3) are coming off a trio of losses to arguably the three best teams in the Atlantic 10, all of which came without star center Osun Osunniyi, who’s now presumably a go after being a full participant in Tuesday’s practice.
They’re playing a Fordham team (7-12, 1-6) that’s taken up its usual place at, or near, the bottom of the conference standings, one it beat by 20 in the Reilly Center earlier this month and has dominated over the last decade.
After dropping the last three, including Saturday’s hard-fought 81-75 home setback to Rhode Island, and with their most important player back in the lineup, Bona, behind closed doors, will almost certainly be looking to take its frustrations out on the Rams.
ON THE surface, however, it was willing to say this much: Tonight’s rematch with Fordham (7 o’clock, WPIG-FM, WHDL-AM, ESPN+-live stream) inside historic Rose Hill Gym presents a golden opportunity to get back on track.
“Correct,” freshman guard Alejandro Vasquez said. “We’ve definitely been working on our preparation more better and coming into the next game focused more than last game because we need a win. We’re desperate.”
The Bonnies have won eight in a row, the last one a 64-44 triumph inside the RC on Jan. 11, and 14 of the last 15 over the Rams. They’ve been historically successful inside Rose Hill, winning seven of the eight matchups there under Schmidt, with the only loss coming in his first campaign.
Beyond the chance to extend that run, and the need to “take care of business” against a lesser opponent, however: is this: the opportunity for their first win since beating UMass in Rochester two weeks ago and to gain some ground on the three teams just ahead of them (VCU, Richmond and Duquesne, all at 5-2) in the standings.
The expectation is that Bona, as a xx-point favorite, take this one on the road rather comfortably. Its goal of “stealing” one away from the RC remains the same, though … no matter the opponent.
“WE VIEW them all like that,” said Schmidt, when asked if there was a greater need to beat the 13th-place team in the conference. “Every game we play on the road, it’s an opportunity for us to steal a victory. This is the same way as the VCU game or the Dayton game or George Mason.
“It’s the next game, it’s a road game. We have to play well, but that’s how you compete in the Atlantic 10. You’ve got to try to steal some on the road, and try to steal them all.”
Earlier this month, Bona limited a Rams team that was missing three of its top four scorers to 44 points on a paltry 24 percent shooting, including a 9-for-40 effort from 3-point range.
In the nearly three weeks since, Fordham continues to be limited by injuries, often mixing and matching lineups on a nightly basis. Then-leading scorer and rebounder Chuba Ohams suffered a season-ending injury on Jan. 5. Senior guard Erten Gazi has appeared in only one game since Jan. 2. Third-leading scorer Antwon Portley (10.3 points), after missing a month, made his return to the lineup on Saturday against Saint Louis.
And yet, even at 1-6, the Rams have hung in there.
AFTER falling to Bona, Fordham took Duquesne to overtime (before losing 58-56), hung with Davidson in a 74-62 loss and earned its first league win, a 59-54 home triumph over George Washington, before being handled by the Billikens, 55-39, over the weekend. And even in that loss in the RC, the Rams were able to trim to a 16-point second-half deficit to five before Bona used another big run to pull away.
How has coach Jeff Neubauer’s team remained competitive despite an apparent lack of A-10 talent?
As Bona saw firsthand on Jan. 11, it does everything it can to play at a snail’s pace and, in connection, boasts a scoring defense that ranks No. 1 in the A-10 (60.6 points). That helps to offset its league-low 58.6 points per game.
“They’re well-coached, they’ve got good players,” Schmidt said. “When one (guy) goes down, someone else steps up. They defend, they play a unique style that keeps them in games. They slow it down, they make every possession critical at both ends of the court.
“But they’ve got good players, Coach Neubauer knows what he’s doing, and that’s how you’re successful.”
FOR SCHMIDT’S team, which typically plays in front of a pro-Bona audience at Rose Hill, there’s this incentive: The Bonnies are currently riding their first three-game losing streak in league play in four years.
They haven’t dropped four in a row in the A-10 since the end of the 2013-14 regular season. A team that has often avoided prolonged losing stretches in becoming one of the conference’s most consistent teams over the last half-decade, Bona would like to keep it that way.
And it has no intention of overlooking the Rams as it goes for the season sweep.
“We view them the same (as any other team),” Vasquez said. “The preparation is the same. We’re not going to take them lightly. We won the first time, but the second game is always the hardest one.”
Said Schmidt, “Every game in the A-10 is a battle, no matter who you’re playing. If it’s the top team in the league, if it’s the bottom. If you don’t play well, you’re not going to win, especially on the road.”