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Bucky Gleason: Count UMass coach among Bona believers

ALLEGANY – Matt McCall is a rookie coach in the Atlantic 10, so he hasn't even taken his first lap around the track with the University of Massachusetts. He was well aware that St. Bonaventure beat Syracuse last weekend. He watched Bona beat Maryland and take apart other teams.

McCall studied up on Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who make up one of the better backcourt combinations in the nation. Anybody could see the Bonnies had a very good team this year, but there was no way for McCall to truly understand what his team was up against until he saw them for himself in the conference opener Saturday.

Were they as good as advertised?

"Better," said McCall, who was hired to replace Derek Kellogg after going 48-18 over two seasons with Tennessee-Chattanooga. "They haven’t lost without Jaylen Adams in the lineup, and they're going to be a force to be reckoned with the next 17 games, especially in this building. Great crowd, great environment."

McCall couldn't say enough about the Bonnies, fawning over them like no opposing coach in recent memory after Bona coasted to a 98-78 victory over UMass before a near-sellout at the Reilly Center. With students were home for the holidays, Bona played its first home game since their big win over Syracuse on the road.

Adams and Mobley were at their best Saturday. Adams had 32 points and handed out seven assists with no turnovers. He controlled the tempo and found his teammates for easy baskets when he wasn't feeding Mobley, who was equally terrific. Mobley had 28 points, including five three-pointers.

It's hard to fathom Bona not finishing near the top of the Atlantic 10 given the way they opened the conference schedule Saturday. They had a comfortable lead early before UMass answered with a 15-1 run. "Too easy, too early," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. But it was a matter of time before Bona's talent took over for good.

Adams and Mobley combined for their most points in a game, surpassing the 55 points they scored last season when Mobley had 34 in an overtime loss to Virginia Commonwealth at home. Both were 10 of 16 from the floor Saturday. Both were virtually unstoppable whenever Bona needed a bucket.

"Any time you have two players like that who play that well offensively, that shoot that well -- the ball kept going through the net, kept going through the net, kept going through the net – it's going to be hard (for UMass) to win," McCall said. "You have to give them a lot of credit."

McCall wasn't being redundant so much as giving the play-by-play. In a span of just more than three minutes, Mobley hit a three, Adams drove into the lane for a layup, Adams hit a three, Adams hit a three, Adams hit a three and Mobley hit a three to give the Bonnies a 45-33 lead. And that was before they shot 55 percent and opened up a big lead in the second half.

Bona's success starts with Adams and Mobley, but it hardly ends with their two high-scoring guards. Idris Taqqee is a shutdown defensive player who had five points and 12 rebounds Saturday. Amadi Ikpeze, the raw 6-foot-10 center from Amherst, has shown signs he can be a force inside. The roster is loaded with unselfish role players.

The Bonnies opened up a 26-point lead midway through the second half, reaffirming their dominance over a UMass team that had non-conference wins over Providence and Georgia, among others. St. Bonaventure (11-2) showed why it received a few votes last week in the Top 25 poll. Newsflash, they're really good.

And they proved as much Saturday.

St. Bonaventure knew it was the better team and remained in control even when it appeared otherwise. But there were times in which they also took their foot off the accelerator. That's fine against overmatched teams like UMass, but Bona can't expect to flip the switch when their season continues Wednesday against Dayton.

It begins a four-game stretch over 11 days, including Dayton, Saint Joseph's and Rhode Island on the road. The other game is Jan. 10 against Fordham at home.

Bona pulled away in the second half Saturday with a 17-3 run that including nine straight points. It was as if the Bonnies were done toying with the Minutemen. Mobley hit a step-back three. Ikpeze started getting involved inside. Adams hit a three and came around a screen for a layup and a 68-48 lead.

"We understood it was the first conference game," Adams said. "The intensity's got to go up, preparation throughout the week has to go up and we had to come out ready to play. We came out really excited to get the conference going."

The chore for any coach overseeing a team with high expectations is striking the right balance, knowing when to push his players and pull back. Schmidt put the Syracuse game into perspective before the team bus returned to campus. Yes, it was a great win for the program, a confidence builder. You hear coaches talk about their teams putting tough losses behind them, but the same is true for big wins.

For years, Schmidt emphasized breaking the season into three parts: non-conference, Atlantic 10 and the postseason. He made sure the victory over Syracuse was in the distant past when his players returned Tuesday. As far as the Bonnies were concerned, they were 0-0 and needed to show UMass they were worthy of the hoopla.

If you don't believe me, take it from the losing coach.

"We got outhustled, outworked, out-toughed," McCall said. ""Adams and Mobley get a lot of credit, and rightfully so. But those others guys are really good, too. The most impressive thing about St. Bonaventure is they're a connected team, from their head coach to the rest of their players to the guys on the end of the bench. When you get a connected team with that kind of talent, with those two players, you're talking about doing something special."

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