Times are good again at St. Bonaventure with the Bonnies off to a 7-2 start, the program’s best since 2001-02.
During the preseason, the Bonnies appeared to be headed for a long year with the team picked to finish last in the Atlantic 10 Conference after losing the bulk of their scoring and rebounding to graduation. But the Bonnies returned backcourt experience in seniors Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof, who fit nicely into a framework where the sum is far greater than its parts.
“One of my concerns going into the season is we didn’t have a guy who is like the go-to guy last year, they all graduated,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “Those guys, Charlon and Matthew, needed to change their mindset from a player who didn’t need to be there all the time or in big moments give it to somebody else. Now, it’s their turn.”
The Bonnies try and continue their best start in 12 seasons with a matchup against Big 4 rival the University at Buffalo (3-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Arena which tips off a busy weekend in the Big 4.
Canisius College (3-3) and Niagara University (1-7) both begin Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play tonight. The Golden Griffins, who have won two of their last three games, host Saint Peter’s (2-4) at 7 p.m. at the Koessler Center. The Purple Eagles have lost six in a row since beating UB on Nov. 13 and will take on Siena (2-7) at 7 p.m. at the Gallagher Center.
Niagara’s Antoine Mason is the nation’s leading scorer at 30.0 points a game while Canisius’ Billy Baron is tied with UCLA’s Jordan Adams for 26th nationally at 21.5 a game. Wright and Kloof are not scorers in the mold of Mason or Baron but they are the Bonnies’ heart and the pulse.
Wright has increased his scoring from 7.3 as a junior to a team-high 18.4 as a senior and over the last five games he’s averaging 19.8. Kloof struggled as a junior but his scoring average has jumped 7.0 from a year ago to 12.3 per game. He’s also averaging a career best 3.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
“They’ve played well, I wouldn’t give them an A-plus, but they’ve done a really good job at leading the team, practicing,” Schmidt said. “The pressure is on them and in order for us to be successful our backcourt has to play well and for the most part they have.”
The Bonnies path isn’t always smooth like in the first half of Tuesday win over UMass-Lowell when they trailed at the half and heard some criticism from the Bona faithful despite a 67-58 win. Shooting 1-for-12 from beyond the three-point arc certainly gave fans the ammunition to voice their concerns.
“You can’t play your A-game all the time,” Schmidt said. “You’re going to have some games where you play a C-level game. But can you pull out a victory when you’re not playing well? To me, that’s a great sign of a good team when you’re not playing well and you can find a way to win.”
UB coach Bobby Hurley didn’t believe the Bulls played well in their 65-55 victory last Saturday against Delaware State. He admitted Thursday that his assessment of the game may have been too harsh considering Delaware State is a difficult matchup because of their offensive discipline which usually controls the game’s tempo. On Wednesday, the Hornets lost at No. 25 Dayton by 10 points.
But with a week in between games, the Bulls responded well in practice.
“We almost approached it like we didn’t win on Saturday and that was the mindset so we’ve had some really good, physical practices,” Hurley said. “I don’t think I could have asked for two better practices than Wednesday and Thursday. All our live segments were highly competitive.”
The primary focus for the Bulls was rebounding, an area where the Bonnies have shown efficiency with a plus-8.2 margin. Buffalo, a plus-1.8 against opponents, yielded 12 offensive boards against Del. State.
Senior Javon McCrea is averaging a career best 10.6 boards a game while junior Will Regan is second at 5.2, also a personal best.
“It was good against Robert Morris, we took care of business there, and that was a big difference in that game, but we didn’t do it in our last game,” Hurley said. “We have to do it against the Bonnies. They’re physical and go after the ball hard.”