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Bona takes aim at No. 15 Dayton; UB shoots for a turnaround

St. Bonaventure gets a shot at a marquee road win, and the University at Buffalo gets a chance to boost its chances for a top-four finish in the Mid-American Conference in key Big 4 college basketball games Saturday.

The Bonnies visit 15th-ranked Dayton at noon (Radio 95.7, NBC Sports Network). UB meets Bowling Green at noon at Alumni Arena (Radio 1520, Time Warner Sports).

St. Bonaventure probably blew its shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament berth with its loss Wednesday at Atlantic 10 Conference cellar-dweller La Salle. But an upset of mighty Dayton would revive hopes that Bona might get an NCAA bid by reaching the A-10 title game (without having to win it).

UB is expected to have point guard Lamonte Bearden back from a three-game suspension. If UB wins the games it’s supposed to win over the next two weeks, the Bulls should make the top four of the MAC.

Meanwhile, Canisius, Niagara and the UB women also are home for games this afternoon while the Bona women are on the road. Here’s a capsule look at Saturday’s Big 4 action:

St. Bona: The Bonnies face long odds at Dayton, which has won 20 straight A-10 home games. Dayton was upset at Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday. The Flyers (21-4, 11-2) are in a three-way tie for first with Saint Joseph’s and Virginia Commonwealth. Bona (17-7, 9-4) stands fourth, a game ahead of George Washington. But the Bonnies own the tiebreaker over GW.

Dayton ranks No. 1 in the A-10 and 28th in the nation in points allowed (64.6). But it was the balanced Dayton offense that dominated the Bonnies a month ago. Dayton led, 45-18, at halftime and won by six. One possible plus for Bona: Dayton star Kendall Pollard sat out the last two games with a bone bruise near the knee. He will play only if Dayton decides it desperately needs him.

“He’s day to day the rest of the season,” said Dayton coach Archie Miller. “He’s cleared to play. But one of these days he’s going to wake up and not be able to go the rest of the season. So it’s going to be a gauge on what’s the risk and reward as we finish the season.”

Dayton has athletes in 6-foot-5 Charles Cooke (16.0 ppg) and 6-6 Dyshawn Pierre (13.2 ppg) who are matchup nightmares.

UB: The Bulls lost three straight without Bearden, who sat out for violating team rules. UB coach Nate Oats would not confirm that Bearden will face Bowling Green but said he’s “hoping to see him” versus the Falcons.

Akron (10-3) looks like it will earn the MAC’s No. 1 seed. Kent State, Ohio and Ball State are tied at 9-5. UB is tied at 7-5. But UB holds the tiebreaker edge over Kent State and Ball State.

Bowling Green (4-9) has lost six straight and eight of its last nine.

“They play hard,” Oats said. “Their record isn’t as good as ours, but they’ve been in every game. They drilled Ohio at Ohio. So they’re capable of beating good teams. ... They’re somewhat similar to us. They have athletic wings. They have a young freshman center, just like we’ve got inexperienced interior play.”

Bowling Green ranks 11th in the MAC in scoring (69.5 ppg). UB will need to limit turnovers and play solid defense. The Bulls have made the most turnovers in the MAC and are third in defensive field-goal percentage. Spencer Parker, a 6-7 senior, leads the Falcons at 14 ppg.

Canisius: The Griffs play host to Marist, the last-place team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, at 3 p.m. (Radio 1230, ESPN3) at the Koessler Athletic Center. Canisius (11-17, 6-11) has lost three straight. Marist (5-21, 2-15) has lost four straight and is could be without its top two scorers, Khallid Hart and Brian Parker, both of whom missed Thursday’s game at Niagara.

Niagara: The Purple Eagles face a tough test against Fairfield at 3 p.m. (Radio 550) in the home finale at the Gallagher Center. Fairfield (16-11, 10-7) has won four straight and boasts the No. 3 offense in the MAAC. Niagara (7-21, 5-12) is last in the MAAC in scoring.

UB women: The Bulls play host to Miami at 2:30 p.m. (Radio 1520) in the second half of an Alumni Arena doubleheader. Only five games remain in the regular season. UB (12-12, 4-9) lost at Miami last month, 69-58. Another loss to the RedHawks would put the Bulls in jeopardy of a bottom-four MAC finish, which would put UB on the road in the first round of the MAC tournament. Miami is 9-15, 3-10.

Bona women: Coming off their biggest win of the season, in overtime over George Washington on Wednesday at the Reilly Center, the Bonnies travel to Philadelphia to face La Salle at 1 p.m. (105.9 FM) in hopes of avoiding the same fate the Bona men suffered there Wednesday. Bona is 21-5 overall and 10-3 (tied for third) in the Atlantic 10 while the Explorers are 5-21, 2-11.