As November games go, the urgency will be high tonight in HSBC Arena.
Early season alarms are ringing loudly for Canisius and St. Bonaventure, who will try to forget brutal home openers and earn their first win in the finale of a downtown tripleheader.
The action begins at 4 p.m. with the University at Buffalo women (0-2) meeting Lafayette (1-1). The UB men and Indiana State (both 1-1) play at 6 p.m., with the Griffs (0-1) and Bonnies (0-2) scheduled for an 8 p.m. tipoff that will probably be closer to 8:45. There is no television coverage; both UB games are on Radio 1340 AM, while the Canisius-Bona contest will be on 710 and 1300 AM and 95.7 FM.
It will also be a big night on Monteagle Ridge as Niagara (2-1) plays St. John's (1-1) at 7 p.m. in the Gallagher Center (Radio 1440 AM). Only about 300 tickets are left for that game.
St. Bonaventure is likely to make lineup changes tonight to revive an offense that was dormant in losses to Iona (73-49) and Marist (74-58). Canisius, meanwhile, hopes to take better care of the ball after 18 turnovers derailed its attack in Monday's 87-76 loss to Howard.
The Bonnies are trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 1994 while Canisius hasn't started 0-2 since 1999. The losses to Marist and Howard were shocking to fans of the Big 4 schools because they came in home openers against opponents who were just 6-22 last season.
"There were some good things," Canisius coach Mike MacDonald insisted after the game. "We're going to have focus on those, build on those and try to stretch them out over a 40-minute game."
MacDonald wasn't stretching when he said he saw positives.
The turnover trouble overshadowed a Canisius effort that included five double-figure scorers, three double-doubles (including 11 points and 11 rebounds from freshman forward Rigoberto Sargeant) and a 49-38 rebounding advantage.
The Bonnies, meanwhile, don't have nearly that many positives on which to dwell. They've shot only 30 percent from the field and have led for a combined 30 seconds in two games. Iona coach Jeff Ruland said his team "could have realistically held (the Bonnies) to 25 or 30 points" after the Gaels crushed Bona in the opener.
"With all of our youth (five newcomers), I was concerned with how we would score," said coach Anthony Solomon. "After two games, that concern has grown into a bigger concern."
Junior college guard Wade Dunston has led the Bonnies in scoring in both games, averaging 19.5 per contest. He's likely to start tonight and so is junior guard Patrick Lottin, who had 12 points in 33 minutes Tuesday in his first game after offseason knee surgery.
Dunston had 17 points in 27 minutes Tuesday. Afterward, he openly lobbied for more time.
"I'm hungry," said Dunston. "My defense can help out at the beginning of the games so the top scorers on the other teams can't go off as much."
Lottin agreed the Bonnies have to respond better to the opening tap. They've faced two double-digit halftime deficits and trailed, 29-8, after 12 minutes Tuesday.
"If we concentrate on the first five minutes, we'll be fine the rest of the game," Lottin said. "Starting from 20 points down is not good. You're never going to win like that. . . . Our starting five has got to do a better job and we can build from there."
Like Bona, Canisius is dealing with the impact of youth on its roster. With the suspensions of Jon Popofski and Steve McLean, the Griffs are down to eight scholarship players and five are either freshmen or sophomores.
"That's a hell of a percentage," MacDonald said. "That means my hair gets grayer and grayer by the minute. But I also know we will get better."
Both teams are facing rugged upcoming schedules that put wins at a premium and make tonight's game even more crucial.
The Bonnies figure to have an edge next Saturday at home against Cornell, but when else? They play December road games at Syracuse (Wednesday), West Virginia (Dec. 7) and Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 17), and face huge challenges at home Dec. 20 and 22 against Niagara and George Mason -- teams that combined for 45 wins last season.
The Griffs, meanwhile, are opening a season with four straight home games for the first time since 1970. But it will be tough to take advantage during that run because after tonight's game they host Metro Atlantic front-runners Niagara (Wednesday) and Fairfield (Dec. 4).
Canisius then plays Dec. 11 at Eastern Michigan (a team expected to battle for the Mid-American title), hosts UB on Dec. 18 and travels to play a Dec. 23 game at America East power Boston University.
And it gets no easier after that. There's a Dec. 28 meeting against St. John's in the ECAC Holiday Festival, a matchup against either Columbia or No. 17 North Carolina State in the second round two days later, and a Jan. 2 game at the College of Charleston.
The Bonnies lead the series, 92-60, but Canisius has credit for nine wins in the last 13 meetings (Bona won the 2002 game in the Koessler Center, but it was forfeited to the Griffs in the wake of the Jamil Terrell eligibility scandal). . . . Indiana State posted a 70-46 win over Coastal Carolina in its opener and lost a 56-52 decision Tuesday at Indiana in a game that was tied with 3 1/2 minutes to go. UB beat the Sycamores last year, 64-51, in an ESPN Bracket Buster game at Terre Haute, Ind. . . . St. John's announced two years of self-imposed penalties Friday after an investigation revealed former player Abe Keita received cash payments from former basketball staff members. The penalties include scholarship reductions for the next two years and a postseason ban for this season that makes the Red Storm ineligible for the Big East Tournament.