PREVIEW: Bonnies look to stay hot, seek redemption at Saint Louis

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Nic Gelyon

ST. LOUIS, MO — This is a big weekend for the Bonnies.  

They have a chance to put a strangle-hold on the Atlantic 10. To make people notice them. 

A win against Saint Louis (7-3) would not only see the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team beat a former Associated Press Top 25 team and extend its winning streak to eight games. It would see the Bonnies continue a streak of A-10 dominance that has been unmatched this season. 

Just consider this: seven of SBU’s first 10 opponents currently have a record over .500. Bona went 7-0 against those opponents. 

And the Bonnies are blowing out virtually everyone. Since their loss to Rhode Island, they are winning by an average 13.4 points. And, against all opponents that are currently over .500, the Bonnies have won by an average of 9.9 points. 

They now face what could be their toughest opponent yet in Saint Louis. 

But what makes this Billikens team difficult to analyze is that they’ve played, in essence, two different seasons. Their first, which lasted until Dec. 23, saw them go 7-1 in all non-conference games. But they wouldn’t play again for over a month, as a COVID-19 outbreak within the program halted all team activities. 

Just last Tuesday, a game-starved Saint Louis returned. They lost a close game to Dayton, 76-61. They then lost at La Salle, 82-75, on Wednesday.

To say Saint Louis’ last two games are representative of what it was before the team’s outbreak would be unfair. Let me remind you what the Billikens have the potential to be at full-strength. 

They averaged 84 points in non-conference play, and held opponents to 65. They shot over 50% from the field and were the 13th-best three-point shooting team in the nation.  

They had a plus-11 rebound advantage, and nearly ten more assists per game than their opponents. They won a close game against LSU, dominated North Carolina State, and played a relatively even game against Minnesota before losing by eight points.

This is what Saint Louis was.   

But this week, the Billikens haven’t had much time to rest. It seems that what Saint Louis has lost in momentum, St. Bonaventure has gained in steam.  

The Bonnies lived up to their potential against George Mason on Saturday. Shooting 61% from the field, the Bonnies put 84 points on the Patriots, the most points they’d allowed in a non-overtime game this season. 

 84 is also the highest number of points that the Bonnies have scored this season.  

Junior guard Dominick Welch led the way in that game, shooting 4-for-6 from three, with four rebounds, four assists and 22 points. He played all 40 minutes against the Patriots. 

What does this mean for Saturday’s game against the Billikens? 

Saint Louis’ biggest weakness is currently its defense. Against Dayton and La Salle, the Billikens have allowed 12 and eight three-point makes, respectively. The three-ball has accounted for nearly 40% of the points they allowed in those two games.

The Bonnies have the shooters to exploit this weakness. Junior guard Kyle Lofton knows having himself, Welch, Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway makes life easier for the Bonnies. All are averaging over 10 points a game this season. 

“Having guys that can do that… it takes pressure off me,” Lofton said. “It’s hard to focus on one or two guys because we have so much talent on this team where guys can just go off every given night.” 

And for what the Bonnies bring to the table in skill, they have the motivation to match—especially in this game. This will be the first time the Bonnies have played Saint Louis since last March, a one-sided, 72-49 loss, just before the COVID-19 pandemic halted college basketball. 

“Seeing how freshman year we lost, and how last year we lost, like it wasn’t even a game, we talk about all that stuff,” Lofton said. “Everyday we look at it, like all right, this is it, it’s not going to happen anymore.” 

Welch knows that beating this team will require a strong presence on the glass—they can’t let senior Hasahn French notch 18 rebounds this time around, as he did a year ago against SBU. It’s a good thing the Bonnies are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, averaging 39.4 a game. 

Bona will also need to be weary of Jordan Goodwin, SLU’s preseason first-team all-league senior guard who is averaging 15.8 points per game this year.

“This year, we’re a much smaller team,” Welch said. “We just need to be the more physical team, really get them off the glass. We need to win the battle of the boards, match their physicality, and just make shots.” 

As bonus motivation for Bona, the team received 19 votes in last week’s AP poll, the 32nd-most in the country. A win likely inches the Bonnies closer to the Top 25. It may even put them in the Top 25.  

The Bonnies have set out to prove themselves. Many will argue that they already have. Some, of course, will say otherwise. But it will be hard to argue with a 10-1 record, an undefeated non-conference schedule, and an 8-1 record in the A-10 if they beat Saint Louis on Saturday. 

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