It’s been a while, but Billy Baron is well versed on what happens on Saturday nights in the Reilly Center during the fall and winter.
“Yeah, the Reilly Center is always rocking,” he said. “Saturday night, not much else to do in Olean, N.Y. I know that from 11 years of living there.”
And no one needs to explain to either Canisius College or St. Bonaventure what’s at stake at 7 tonight when the Bonnies host the Golden Griffins for the 162nd installment of this defining grudge match.
“It’s a special game for our school and for our program,” St. Bonaventure sixth-year senior Marquis Simmons said. “This is a great rivalry and we understand that.”
There’s a small caravan of Canisius students heading to the RC, embracing an antagonism toward all things brown and white, but all the teasing should be drowned out by the noisy student section across from the Golden Griffins’ bench.
“Down there has always been unbelievable,” said Jim Baron, a 1977 St. Bonaventure graduate who coached the Bonnies from 1992 to ’01 and is now coach of the Griffs.
“Everyone comes out, the students, the community.”
Canisius (1-0) continues to revel in the success of last season, although Jim Baron pleaded for patience after the Griffs’ 71-66 victory over South Dakota on Monday night. Canisius lost two starters in Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa, but with Billy Baron at the controls, the Griffs are expected to contend in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference once again.
“He can shoot it and can shoot it with range,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said of Baron. “He’s smart and has good enough quickness that if you get up into him he can go by.”
Senior Chris Perez and sophomore Dominique Raney have replaced Washington and Sosa in the backcourt, but struggled from the floor in the win over South Dakota (4 for 17 overall).
“We have a ways to go,” Jim Baron said. “We have to keep building. We’re going to have a lot of growing pains and we’re going to have some bumps in the road where we have to learn and we have to bounce back.”
St. Bonaventure, at 2-0 and sloughing off the disappointment of last season’s 14-15 campaign, is trying to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2000. The Bonnies were expected to dip even further after losing Demitrius Conger, Eric Mosley and Chris Johnson; they were the only team that didn’t have a player on the All-Big 4 preseason first team. They were picked 12th in the 13-team Atlantic 10.
Bona is also the lone team in the Big 4 without a proven star, although one could be emerging in senior point guard Charlon Kloof, who leads the Bonnies in scoring (13.5) and assists (5.5) and has committed just one turnover.
“We think we have a chance to be pretty good,” Schmidt said. “Our role guys are trying to step up into our go-to spots and positions and I think we have a chance to have a good year but it’s still so early in the season and we’re not nearly where we need to be.”
All five starters are averaging in double figures and sophomore forward Dion Wright averages 9 points off the bench, which, at least initially, speaks to the Bonnies’ balance. They also welcome back junior college transfer Andell Cumberbatch after he served an NCAA-mandated two-game suspension for participating in two unsanctioned summer league games.
“They have five guys in double figures, that means they can score in a lot of different places,” Jim Baron said. “They have great size, great athleticism and they don’t have too many holes. … They have good balance.”
Canisius beat St. Bonaventure at the Koessler Center last November, 72-69, with Washington leading all scorers with 23 points. The Bonnies lead the series, 96-65, but Canisius has won six of the last 10.
Elsewhere, the University at Buffalo (0-2) tries for its first win in the Bobby Hurley era at 3 p.m. today against West Virginia Wesleyan, while Niagara is idle until Thursday, when it meets University of South Carolina Upstate in Kent, Ohio, as part of Coaches vs. Cancer.