ST. BONAVENTURE — Lost, perhaps, in the aftermath of the latest all-time game at the Reilly Center was the following silver lining:
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, for all intents, will be fine.
The Bonnies let a golden opportunity slip away on Saturday, losing to a good UNC-Wilmington team at home on an incredible Denzel Ingram fallaway jumper just before the buzzer sounded.
If we’re choosing to view this team through the prism of NCAA Tournament contention in mid-December, the UNCW loss will loom large. This was their last chance at a signature victory in the non-conference, the very kind they failed to capture a year ago when they were left out of the Big Dance due evidently to a lack of key early-season victories.
This was the Hofstra game from last season, a potentially retrospective killer.
For Bona, there was no hurt in losing to a borderline nationally-ranked Florida team on the road in its second game of the season or even to a now-8-2 Little Rock squad on a neutral floor at Thanksgiving (the Trojans currently check in at No. 142 in the Ken Pom rankings, but could be closer to 100 in the end if they roll through their conference again).
The issue is falling at home in the biggest non-league game in recent memory in their last attempt at a nice, shiny Top 75 victory (UNCW moved up to No. 60 via Ken Pom after Saturday’s victory while Bona fell to 70) before the new year.
Now, the Bonnies’ best non-league triumph will go down as either Buffalo or Siena, something they might not be able to hang their hat on come mid-March. Now, instead of a potential nine-game win streak heading into conference play, they have a bit of a regrouping to do before attempting to finish strong.
But that’s just it … coach Mark Schmidt’s team can — and likely will — finish strong.
If Bona takes care of business in its final three games (against sub-200 opponents Niagara, Army and Canisius), it will be 9-3 heading into the UMass contest on Dec. 30, which would just so happen to be its best non-league winning percentage (75 percent) in Schmidt’s 10 years at the helm — better, even, than last year when the Bonnies ultimately DID find themselves in contention.
And that’s saying something given what this program has accomplished over the last five years.
Bona may not have gotten the signature victory it needed, but it has set itself up nicely for another promising Atlantic 10 campaign, and in a year in which there are a handful of strong teams at the top, but nobody unbeatable.
And here’s why:
n Bona once again boasts arguably the league’s best backcourt in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who rank second and fourth, respectively, in the A-10 in scoring and tied for second in 3-point shooting. We saw firsthand last year just how far an uber-talented pair of guards can take a team.
One of the takeaways from the UNCW game is that the
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Seahawks showed the way on how to wear down the duo, or at least keep it below its usual 40-plus combined points per game.
Adams and Mobley will have to continue to be great for their team to succeed, but nine games have proven that Bona is more than just its two star guards.
Denzel Gregg has been a double-digit scorer all season and senior forward David Andoh is quickly emerging as the Bonnies’ third offensive option — and a very capable one at that. Add in the fact they get sophomore guard Nelson Kaputo back from suspension this weekend, and that freshman bigs Josh Ayeni and Amadi Ikpeze are presumably only going to get better, and Bona figures to be a hard guard going forward.
n Speaking of hard guard, it should have enough offensive firepower to have a chance on any given night. Through the first full month, Bona leads the A-10 in scoring (83 points) while checking in at No. 5 in field goal percentage (.461), second in 3-point field goal percentage (.374) and third in free throw percentage (.750). There’s no reason to think that kind of production won’t continue.
The question for this team: Will it be able to finish as well as it did last winter?
n Thirdly, there’s no question the Bonnies need to be better defensively, especially at the 3-point line. They currently rank second-from-last in the league in both points allowed and 3-point field goal percentage D, and we saw just how much of a factor the latter can be in the loss to the Seahawks.
If it continues to go this way, some of those close league victories from last season could be losses this time around.
But they’ve begun to show at least some improvement in those areas: Bona held a high-scoring Hofstra team to below 40 percent from the field last Tuesday. Rebounding, which was a weakness early, has been much better of late, as it now ranks third in the league in margin (plus-3.4) and is up to No. 7 in defensive boards (35).
Signature victory or not, Bona has the feel of an Atlantic 10 contender again this season, and perhaps that’s where it can once again make up for what slipped away in November and December. Will it pan out that way? We’ll begin to find out in the coming weeks.
(J.P. Butler, a Times Herald sports writer, may be reached at email@example.com)