ST. BONAVENTURE — It was the enormous elephant in the room.
Marv Levy made famous two sayings about cliched “must wins.”
One went, “World War II was a MUST WIN,” and the other was, “What do you say to your team when you lose a must win?”
And, no way, before Wednesday night’s meeting with Richmond at the Reilly Center, was St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt going to admit to that over-used phrase for the Atlantic 10 opener against the Spiders.
Nor would anybody in his position.
But the 2,992 patrons in the RC and any moderately insightful fan knew that it was.
You see, after Richmond, the Bonnies faced a brutal three-game A-10 stretch, Saturday at Massachusetts (13-1, 1-0), at Saint Louis (14-2, 1-0) next Wednesday and back home against George Washington (12-2, 0-0) nine days hence.
THAT’S WHY last night’s, 84-70, victory over Richmond (10-6, 0-1) was so critical to Bona ... especially coming back after blowing all of a 13-point halftime lead in less than 4 1/2 minutes. In fact, the Bonnies actually fell behind by two and endured six ties before pulling away from a 57-57 deadlock over the final eight minutes.
The reality is, this was a victory Schmidt’s crew desperately needed.
It’s hardly a stretch to project the Bonnies losing consecutive road games against the conference’s two best teams.
But they would be a lot stronger mentally coming back to the RC against the A-10’s third-best team — GW — at 1-2 in the conference, rather than 0-3.
And, after the Bonnies wasted that solid intermission lead (40-27), victory was hardly guaranteed.
“In the second half, they made that run and took the lead and, in hindsight, we showed some toughness,” Schmidt assessed. “We took a punch, didn’t fall down, and fought back.
“I’m proud of their effort. We could have crumbled when they took the lead but we found a way ... got back our momentum and finished out the game strong.”
He added, “It shows we have some tough guys who fight back and that’s what you want to see as a coach. The game, for 40 minutes, is not going to go as perfectly as you want it to. It’s peaks and valleys and it’s how you handle those valleys that determine how successful you are.
“That was a big valley and we came out of it, handled it well, and that’s good to see.”
BUT SCHMIDT maintained he didn’t see the triumph in the same global context as many Bona fans, who are gazing into the team’s immediate future.
“In the Atlantic 10, as a coach, you don’t look at the next game ... you’re so focused on this game,” he emphasized. “In order to have success, you have to win your home games.
“Our goal, when we started the year, was to be 1-0 in non-conference. Today our goal was to be 1-0 in conference play.”
Schmidt admitted, “One of my assistants has the UMass game (on video) and we’ll start talking about (them last night) ... we know how good UMass is. But you really don’t look ahead as a head coach or as players.”
And there is a reality to how Schmidt approaches the Atlantic 10.
“You’ve got to take care of your home games and steal some on the road,” he said. “Last year we didn’t do a great job at home (3-5 in A-10 games), but had the most wins on the road in the league (4-4). And since we didn’t do a great job at home (in 2012-13) that was an emphasis tonight to take care of our home court.
“All teams play better at home ... 75 percent of games are won by the home team. But you still gave to play well ... and tonight our guys did.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)