OLEAN — Winning tends to create smiles, but most teams avoid too many pats on the back for a job that’s only half complete. But a round of atta-boys might be in order for a St. Bonaventure team that wasn’t expected to accomplish much this season.
The Bonnies closed out their non-conference schedule with a thorough, 81-57 romp over winless Cornell (0-13) on Saturday to enter Atlantic 10 Conference play next week with a 10-4 mark, the program’s most since 1997.
St. Bonaventure opens A-10 play at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Richmond at the Reilly Center.
“It gives us some momentum because we know what’s about to hit us,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “The best way to go into league play is with some confidence and hopefully we have that.”
It’s a modest achievement in the grand scheme of things – there’s still a segment that believes the Bonnies are still headed for the A-10 basement – but it’s still a group that made significant strides through the first 14 games of the season.
“You always want to win all your games, but winning 10 games with what people were saying about us – where our offense was going to come from and who are our players – I think our guys had a little chip on their shoulder,” Schmidt said. “They played to prove some people wrong but we know it’s only halfway, now we have to do the same in the conference schedule. But 10-4 is good.”
Losses to Siena, Louisiana Tech and the University at Buffalo were by a combined total of 11 points and leading scorer Matthew Wright was limited to 23 minutes against UB because of an ankle injury. Wright, who averages 32.4 minutes a game, was also limited in the loss to Wake Forest, which defeated Bona at home by 15 points. Some of the outcomes would have been different had the Bonnies connected on free throws down the stretch.
St. Bonaventure didn’t exactly play Murderer’s Row during its pre-conference schedule. The combined record of the Bonnies’ opponents is 80-106 and four teams – Southern Illinois, UMass-Lowell, Niagara and Cornell – have already reached double figures in losses. The Big Red is currently riding a 19-game losing streak.
But considering the heavy losses to graduation, this wasn’t a team that Schmidt could schedule up like he did with his Andrew Nicholson-led group in 2011-12 when Cleveland State, Virginia Tech, Illinois and North Carolina State were on the slate.
“You want wins, you want to win,” Schmidt said. “We got 10 wins and we could have gotten some more but it gives you confidence. Winning breeds winning and that what’s the goal was and now we go into conference play with some confidence.”
Different players emerge on a game-by-game basis. On Saturday it was Jordan Gathers, who finished with a personal high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 5 of 7 from long distance coming off the bench. Gathers and Matthew Wright (4 of 8 from three-point range, 16 points, six rebounds, six assists) made the Big Red pay for sitting in a 2-3 zone as the Bonnies drilled 10 of 22 from long range.
Reserve Dion Wright scored 14 points and added six rebounds and four assists while shooting 7 for 10 from the field. Charlon Kloof added 12 points and four assists while Denzel Gregg had three blocks in 10 minutes of play.
“We all did it together and we preach brotherhood so to get 10 wins and finish the non-conference strong it gives us momentum,” Gathers said.
Said Matthew Wright: “Before the season started we weren’t predicted to do well and we set a goal starting at Niagara, we wanted to win three in a row and we did. … But we’re not satisfied with 10 wins and the scary thing is we could have easily had three or four more wins had we made 15-foot uncontested shots.
“It’s a good feeling but we know it’s nowhere near where we want to be.”