St. Bonaventure went into Saturday afternoon's conference test against Fordham wary of an ambush.
Maybe the Rams would prove too full of vinegar, too exuberant, to fret the absence of their best player. Maybe one of their up-and-comers would use the occasion to come into full blossom.
Dream up a worst-case scenario and it probably went through the mind of coach Mark Schmidt after Fordham's Chris Gaston was suspended a game for throwing a punch against Rhode Island.
"Not having Gaston is a big blow for them," Schmidt said. "We talked to the guys when we found out Gaston wasn't playing, it's that whole wounded animal. You've got to be concerned."
Perhaps all that worrying is what had the Bonnies on full alert. Or maybe, as one might have predicted, Gaston's absence reduced the Rams to a shell of the team that beat nationally ranked Harvard, plus Georgia Tech. Most likely, both factors came into play in Bona's most lopsided Atlantic 10 victory ever, a 95-51 destruction of the Rams that surely had parents telling their kids, "This is how it used to be."
Without the 6-foot-7 Gaston, who averages 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds, the Rams were defenseless against Bona's interior and powerless at the offensive end. The starting front line of Andrew Nicholson and Da'Quan Cook combined for 37 points and 17 rebounds, with Cook scoring a season-high 18. But it all starts with the attention commanded by Nicholson.
"He's a beast," Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. "He affects every position even if he doesn't touch the ball because you've got to do so many things to try to eliminate the touches he gets, and then where does he get his touches and all those things. So it affects you drastically."
The Rams paid for concentrating their efforts on Bona's all-conference center. Cook, who averages just under seven points, opened the game with a mid-range jumper and had eight of Bona's first 12 points. The Bonnies fell into perfect sync from there, scoring 13 straight at one point en route to a resounding 49-18 halftime lead.
"My mind-set just is to be aggressive throughout the whole game," Cook said. "When I was open, the guards did a great job finding me in the right spots to take advantage and score the basketball."
"When we play like that we're hard to beat," Schmidt said. "I thought Da'Quan was terrific tonight. It's the best he's played in my opinion since he's been here. Aggressive. Getting to the foul line. Rebounding the ball. Scoring the ball."
Bona's finishing numbers were across-the-board sensational.
Field goal percentage: 52.9.
Free throw percentage: 92.3.
Rebounding margin: 45-27.
Field goal percentage defense: 29.1.
There was never a letup, a notable achievement for a team that struggled down the stretch of games in November and December. Everyone on the active roster scored, including walk-ons Zach Moore and Danny Farrell. Freshman guard Jordan Gathers saw his most extensive action of the season and produced 12 points in 20 minutes.
"We wanted to just keep going at it and keep working hard," Gathers said. "And that's why we did."
"We have really good players," Schmidt said. "And I've been a part of teams in games like that you have some selfish players, and they go out and look for themselves, try to get their numbers. That's the biggest concern. It gets ratty. Guys become street ball. But I thought our guys really did a good job of handling that and sharing the basketball."