A10 Championship Preview: Bonnies will battle Saint Louis

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

An improbable run by the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has put them in a place they haven’t been since 2012– the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

The Bonnies (18-15) came into the tournament seeded fourth, and a quarterfinal victory over No. 5 George Mason followed by a semifinal win over No. 8 Rhode Island propelled them to Sunday’s title game against the No. 6 Saint Louis Bilikens (22-12).

The run that Bona is currently on has been somewhat remarkable, as they have played to a 14-5 record since beginning the season 4-10. Two months ago, it was hard to think that this team could have turned their season around and put themselves a game away from the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve persevered and fought through it,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. “The kids believe. You’re always going to hit adversity and need to find a way to get it done, and that’s what they’ve done.”

The Bonnies have relied on their freshmen so far in the tournament, as Kyle Lofton has averaged 21.5 points over the first two games and Dom Welch has averaged 16.5 points.

Saint Louis defeated No. 11 Richmond in the second round of the tournament before taking down No. 3 Dayton and No. 2 Davidson in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Tramaine Isabell, Jr. has been a force for the Billikens on offense, averaging 20 points per game so far in the tournament. Javon Bess will also look to cause problems for the Bona defense. He has averaged 17.7 ppg, and scored 24 points  in the semifinal win.

The Bonnies and the Billikens played just eight days ago in each side’s regular season finale. St. Bonaventure won at home, 66-57, behind 20 points from Courtney Stockard and 14 points from Lofton.

The game was tight the whole way, and Saint Louis led by five points at halftime (27-22) before the Bonnies pulled ahead late in the second half and put them away.

Isabell Jr. scored 21 points for the Billikens in that game, and Hasahn French added 14 points.

A key matchup in this game will be French against SBU’s Osun Osunniyi in the paint. French, regarded as one of the best big men in the A10, got Osunniyi in foul trouble the last time the two went head-to-head.

If the freshman can control the boards for the Bonnies, there may be some 2012-type magic on tap for Barclays Center.

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