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Four Mile Brewing Pre-Game: @ Duquesne (9-13, 2-7)

By: Jonathan May

Quickly: The St. Bonaventure Bonnies head to Pittsburgh to face the Duquesne Dukes at the Palumbo Center Wednesday night. The Bonnies and Dukes both come into the game looking for something to positive to help right their respective ships. The Dukes have lost seven of their last eight but have been playing well offensively by scoring at will; something we’ve obviously seen before from them. The Bonnies on the other hand, have played 73 bad minutes of basketball the past two games and were fortunate to escape with a win over St. Joe’s at home after trailing by 18 in the second half. The Bonnies failed to find any rhythm offensively against Rhode Island last Saturday and desperately need to find some answers before this week ends with a huge home tilt against VCU. Duquesne has long been a team that the Bonnies gotten fat against in terms of scoring the ball, so maybe SBU is playing Jim Ferry’s club at just the right time.

The Skinny on the Dukes: We reached out to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Reporter Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) who is the University of Pittsburgh Beat Reporter and has covered the Duquesne Dukes in the past. He has since given up the Dukes beat, but has some really detailed insight into the Dukes this season as he still follows the program.  Also, any person that goes out their way to tell us he got married in a church named after St. Bonaventure will always be respected by us. The entire Q and A is posted below. We can’t thank him enough for his time. 

Brian Batko: Fun fact, I got married in July at the St. Bonaventure church here in the Pittsburgh area, so I feel some sense of kinship with your squad. Hopefully these answers are what you’re looking for:

Bona Blog: The past few seasons the Dukes seemed to favor an uptempo style of play that I believe finished top 50th nationally in PPG a year ago? This season, points are down, averaging 70.5 PPG good for 248th nationally. With that said, what type of offensive game plan are the Bonnies going to encounter with the Dukes next Wednesday?  
Brian Batko: Duquesne coach Jim Ferry still stresses tempo — the Dukes rank 63rd in that department at KenPom — so it’s not as if the Bonnies should expect a slow-it-down, grind-it-out half-court game. The Dukes still want to push when they can, and a strength of their team is the speed and athleticism of point guard Tarin Smith, as well as the downhill attacking style from combo guard Rene Castro. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try to feed the post when they can, especially when backup big man Jordan Robinson comes in the game.
BonaBlog: Aside from a drop off in statistics offensively, as an outsider looking in, Jim Ferry has never had a winning season at Duquesne and he and his squad have lost six of their last seven heading into a tilt with Richmond. Are this year’s struggles part of problem with Ferry and his system or is this simply a rebuilding year after losing Seniors like Derrick Colter and Micah Mason? 

Brian Batko:

Dukes Coach Jim Ferry, who may be coaching for his job down the stretch

So yeah, now they’ve dropped seven of eight after losing a shootout to Richmond. There’s certainly a chance, if not a likelihood, that Ferry is coaching for his job this season. All the equity built up by beating crosstown basketball big brother Pitt earlier this season didn’t erase four previous years of disappointment, nor did it help the Dukes gain much momentum going forward in this season; after all, they went out and lost to crosstown basketball little brother Robert Morris. Ferry doesn’t deny this is a rebuilding year with a relatively inexperienced team, and he does have some promising freshman pieces in Isiaha Mike Lewis II (that’s the moniker I just came up with for forward Isiaha Mike and combo guard Mike Lewis II) but at some point, you’ve gotta win more games than this staff has — that point comes up even quicker when you’ve got a second-year AD in Dave Harper.

BonaBlog: Speaking of Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, who seemingly each became a thorn in the side of many Bonaventure fans the past few seasons. Now that they’re gone, who should fans expect to be the “go to” player in Jim Ferry’s offense?
Brian Batko: Duquesne certainly doesn’t have anyone as deadly as those two were, but graduate transfer shooting guard Emile Blackman has done a nice job stepping up in that role since conference play started. In fact, he’s been in double-figures every game but two (had 9 vs. Saint Louis and just 4 in the beatdown Duquesne got from Rhode Island) and just dropped 22 vs. Richmond. But beyond Blackman, you’ve got the aforementioned Mikes, who have been two of Duquesne’s very best players even in their first year of college basketball. Rene Castro is also capable of providing some scoring pop off the bench when needed, while Smith has been more table-setter than bucket-getter in his first season eligible after transferring in from Nebraska.
BonaBlog: The Bonnies have struggled defending the three this season. Bonnies fans need to know, will Duquesne gash the Bonnies from beyond the arc?
Brian Batko: Probably not, no. Granted, the Dukes drained 11 of 23 from downtown Saturday at Richmond, but that was their first good shooting performance in quite a while. Duquesne had made just 20 of 86 3-point at­tempts (22.3 percent) in the four games before lighting it up vs. Richmond. Last year, they had one of the best shooters in the entire country in Micah Mason. Drake graduate transfer Kale Abrahamson was expected to bring shooting as a stretch 4, the rest of his game hasn’t really been solid enough to play him major minutes in the A-10, plus he started the year with an arm injury. Blackman, Lewis II, Mike and Castro can all shoot it, but obviously they haven’t been consistent enough.
BonaBlog: The Bonnies and Dukes tend to play some nail biters in Pittsburgh over the past few seasons. With the Dukes struggling so far in A10 play, what is your quick prediction or general thoughts on what may transpire? 
Brian Batko: It’s pretty tough to predict a Dukes victory at this point, but they’ve showed some fight the past couple games against Richmond and Davidson, and both on the road. Maybe coming back home will help, but it’s not as if Palumbo Center provides some intimidating environs for opposing teams; frankly, the games are sparsely attended. Entering the year, I thought Duquesne could outperform its preseason prediction of second-to-last in the league, but so far, that’s looking almost exactly correct. I will say the Bonnies win a close one with Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley having big games.
Just as a note to end on, by Monday, I will have officially ceded all Dukes coverage to our new beat writer Sarah K. Spencer. She’ll be at Wednesday night’s game, if all goes according to plan. You can find her on Twitter at @sarah_k_spence and I know she will do a great job covering Duquesne as well as the A-10, which of course has its tournament here this March.


A10 Ranks


3 Things To Watch: 

  1. Will the offense get back on track? It’s pretty simple, for the Bonnies to win Adams and Mobley have to lead the way. The Bonnies are most effective when those two are scoring because secondary scoring options are more open and can be found in rhythm. Gregg, Ayeni and Taqqee are at their best when the opposing team essentially “forgets” about them and leaves them due the focus on the guards. That didn’t happen at Rhode Island and the Bonnies will need to score to keep with a Dukes offense that can score. SBU has had to win many a shootout in Duquesne before and if they are going to again Adams and Mobley are likely to lead the way. 
  2. The Bonnies need to keep the Dukes from finding their rhythm. Against Rhode Island, this observer wasn’t as down on the defensive effort as some fans were on Twitter. Yes, the Bonnies got beat by double digits, but lost in the outcome was the fact that the Bonnies battled back on the defensive end and got some shots to drop to cut the lead to four under four minutes to play with the ball. Mobley’s out of control runner rimmed out and the Rams hit on a traditional three point play and that five point swing was the dagger. To get back into the game, the Bonnies hit the boards and contested every shot to scratch and claw back in. That sort of desperation is not reasonable to play over the course of 40 minutes but maybe they can build off of that and start making a concerted effort to pressure the ball throughout the game, not just down by double digits. SBU has seldom put together 40 minutes of quality defense but it would be great to see that Wednesday night.
  3. It’s been said in many columns, stories and podcasts: Mark Schmidt never gets beat the same way twice in a row. Expect the Bonnies to come out and play a disciplined game on the offensive end for sure. Also, the fouls away from the basket that the Bonnies have been committing will be shored up to ensure their best rotation stays on the floor.

Extra Reading: Brian was also very generous in sending along a link that details the first ever televised college basketball game that originated from Pittsburgh. That game featured Duquesne and our very own Bonnies. It’s a great trip back in time to when these small, private institutions were power houses in college athletics before the advent of the Power 5 Conferences and massive TV deals.  Click here

Twitter Length Closing Take: The Bonnies figure it out on the offensive end, and find their rhythm by beating Duquesne in tune up for their big match-up with VCU on Saturday.

Prediction: St. Bonaventure 82, Duquesne 76

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Jonathan is a class of 2006 graduate and covers the Bonnies when the team travels to Virginia.