By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
The first indication of the 2020-21 St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s on-court chemistry was its first possession of the season.
The Bonnies’ first play took just 14 seconds to complete and featured seven passes to just six dribbles, concluding with an easy backdoor layup by Kyle Lofton. All five players touched the ball, including two give-and-gos from Dominick Welch and Jalen Adaway and Jaren Holmes’s bounce pass to Lofton for the bucket.
Bona recorded assists on six of its first ten field goals and dished nine more helpers before the final buzzer of its seven-point victory over Akron in Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The Bonnies have 14 or more assists in four of their five games this season, ranking 36th in the nation in assists per game and tied for 25th in assist-to-turnover ratio.
The team’s unselfishness culminated in a 27-assist performance on 32 made field goals last Wednesday against St. Joseph’s, the program’s most assists in a single game under coach Mark Schmidt. Only 11 teams have recorded more assists in a single game against another Division I opponent this season.
“Amazing,” associate head coach Steve Curran tweeted, “what can happen when no one cares who gets the credit.”
Bona’s offense was clicking just in time to see Saturday’s game against George Washington postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result in GW’s traveling party. The team practiced Saturday instead, took Sunday off and has spent Monday and Tuesday preparing for Wednesday’s matinee at 1-3 Fordham.
Fordham, which has been tied for last or last place outright in each of the last three Atlantic 10 seasons, stunned the league by defeating defending champion Dayton 55-54 last Wednesday. The win snapped the Rams’ 16-game losing streak against the Flyers, marking their first win in the series since Jan. 4, 2006.
“I would think if you talk to the guys at Dayton, they would be like, ‘Man, we underestimated these guys,'” Schmidt remarked on a Zoom call Tuesday. “We struggle at Fordham; it’s never an easy game. Our guys understand that; it went into overtime last year. And I’ve said it over and over again: in this league or in any league, on any given day anybody can win.”
The Rams didn’t play a game until Dec. 30 after their entire non-conference slate was wiped out due to COVID-related quarantines. Although coach Jeff Neubauer’s team hasn’t dazzled offensively (the 55 points Fordham scored against Dayton marked a season high), it was a late Duquesne rally away from starting league play 2-2.
“That’s a great word: they’re pesky,” Schmidt assessed. “They’re struggling offensively but that hasn’t affected their defense; that hasn’t affected how hard they play. I think one thing, if you look at a team and you see a team, it’s a reflection of the coach. They struggle offensively, and a lot of teams would put their heads down and it’s like, ‘I’m not scoring, I’m not gonna play.’
“These kids really play. They play for Jeff. They play hard as heck.”
Wednesday’s contest features a contrast in styles. Fordham favors a slow pace; only Sacramento State and Virginia average fewer possessions a game. Schmidt, on the other hand, makes no bones about the quick “12 seconds or less” tempo he wants his team to run.
The teams played to Fordham’s pace in the Bronx last Jan. 29, as Bona had just 63 offensive trips in regulation. The Bonnies shot just 35.7 percent and committed 16 turnovers, surviving a five-minute overtime period against a Rams team with just one A-10 win to that point.
“It’s gonna be a very difficult game,” Schmidt said. “They understand who they are and they play awfully hard.”
Despite averaging the fewest points in the country (49.8 per game), four Rams have at least one double-figure scoring performance to their credit four games into the season.
Sophomore guard Chris Austin went for 20 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer, against Dayton. Joel Soriano, a 6-foot-11 forward, is nearly averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds an outing. Point guard Jalen Cobb has also impressed on both sides of the ball, dishing 17 assists to seven turnovers and swiping 10 steals defensively.
The Rams have individual talent and collectively, Schmidt was adamant, have Bona’s full attention. A 4-1 start, coupled with a two-game win streak that places Bona near the top of the league, has not changed that.
“We’re going down to Fordham understanding that it’s gonna be a really difficult game and hopefully we can play good enough to win by one,” he said. “This is not an ‘overlook’ game. Duquesne’s a heck of a team, Dayton’s a heck of a team. Dayton lost and Duquesne almost lost. They caught our guys’ attention. They know how difficult it is.
“We’re not gonna lose this game because we underestimated Fordham. That’s not happening. We may lose, but it’s not gonna be because of that.”
The game is scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN Plus.