(Denzel Gregg Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
It’s been a while since St. Bonaventure Bonnies fans had some legitimate uncertainty about how good their team was.
You have to go back to a three-game losing skid in mid-January, with losses at Duquesne, against Dayton and at VCU, to find a time of collective trepidation among the Bona faithful. But after a 106-101 defeat to Canisius last Thursday exposed the brown and white’s defensive weaknesses, there has been a share of worry going into today’s Atlantic 10 opener against UMass- and not just from internet trolls.
Bonaventure, which finished non-conference play 8-4, allowed opponents to make just under nine threes a contest in the first 12 games, leading to the second-worst three-point percentage defense (39 percent) among A-10 teams. Only La Salle had a worse three-point percentage against and scoring defense than the Bonnies.
Since 1979, when the program joined the Eastern Athletic Association (later renamed the Atlantic 10), no team in its history has allowed 75 or more points a game and won more than eight conference games. The 1977-78 squad gave up an average of 79 and still made the NCAA Tournament, but that team put up 90 or more in 10 of its 29 games.
To win in the A-10, you need to play defense. In each of the last 10 years, each team with at least a share of the regular season league championship has held league opponents under 65 points at least four times. Dayton did it nine times last year.
In 12 non-league games, Bona held only Pepperdine under 65 points. It allowed Saint Francis, Siena, Buffalo, Army and Canisius to score more than their current season averages.
The defensive deficiencies are troubling, but there are no such weak spots with Bonaventure’s powerhouse offense. The Bonnies are 23rd in the NCAA in scoring offense, with just under 85 points per game. Jaylen Adams is seventh in the nation in scoring, with an average of 23 points a contest. According to the KenPom college basketball statistical website, Adams has the best offensive rating in the country.
Adams is the focus, but he’s been far from a one-man show. Matt Mobley is 44th nationally with 20.3 points per game, while Denzel Gregg averages 12.3 and David Andoh chips in just under 10 (9.6). Andoh and freshman forward Josh Ayeni (when he’s not forced to sit due to foul trouble) have displayed near-automatic mid-range games, cashing in whenever they get to their respective hot spots at the wing and free throw line extended.
UMass is a great first test for these Bonnies. The Minutemen have an all-around force in 6-foot-4 junior guard Donte Clark, who ranks first on the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), second in rebounding (4.5 rpg) and second in assists (3.5 apg). Freshman Luwane Pipkins had to sit out last season due to academics, but the former four-star recruit from Chicago is averaging 12.2 points a game, including a 27-point game against Kennesaw St. on Dec. 17. And 6-foot-11, 320-pound sophomore Rashaan Holloway is impossible to overlook, averaging just under 10 points and grabbing 5.2 rebounds in the paint this season.
Holloway, Pipkins and 6-foot-5 freshman guard Dejon Jarreau (9.2 ppg, 4.8 apg, four rpg) are some of coach Derek Kellogg’s young but talented standouts. The only senior on the roster is walk-on Zach Turcotte, yet the Minutemen are 10-3 and are actually two-point favorites according to ESPN.
Clark and some of the returnees are unlikely to have forgotten the last two years, when the Bonnies came into the Mullins Center and secured double-digit wins. The meeting in the Reilly Center on Feb. 27, which the Minutemen lost after making a shot a split-second too late at the buzzer after leading by as much as 18, is still relatively fresh in their minds. The “revenge” aspect, a part of sports psychology whether athletes admit it or not, could play a part in the Minutemen’s energy on Friday afternoon.
As the rivalry renews in Amherst, Bonnies fans know only a 1-0 start to A-10 play will ease some of the tension they are feeling about their squad.