photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu
By Nic Gelyon
ST. LOUIS, MO — Yes, Saint Louis is still very good.
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lost a close game on Saturday to the Billikens at the Chaifetz Center, 70-59. The Billikens are now 8-1 on their home court.
This season, it has seemed that once the Bonnies steal the game’s momentum from a team, they would never give it back. But on Saturday, Saint Louis showed they it was up for the challenge.
“It just seemed like whenever we made a mistake, they made us pay for it,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said after the game. “That was the difference.”
Kyle Lofton led the Bonnies with 17 points, with five rebounds and five assists. Jaren Holmes, despite early foul trouble that caused him to miss the majority of the first half, made a tremendous impact. He put up 12 points and six rebounds in just 26 minutes.
For the Billikens, Javonte Perkins led in scoring with 21 points, with six rebounds and four assists. Scoring 17 of his 21 points in the second half, his efforts proved key in defeating the Bonnies. Hasahn French, also in foul trouble for most of the game, managed to notch seven rebounds in just 16 minutes.
The Bonnies came in looking to enter the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in almost fifty years. They also looked to snap a two-game losing streak to SLU, dating back to the Atlantic 10 championship game in 2019.
The Billikens made a return to form Saturday, following a month-long pause and two-straight conference losses. They rebounded well, notching 34 boards. They passed the ball well, ending up with 17 assists. They shot well from long range, banking 11 threes.
The Billikens played with heightened energy early in the first half. As Saint Louis built an early 17-4 lead, they didn’t turn the ball over. They scored at will. They were clean.
On the other hand, the Bonnies were erratic, their play a sequence of missed shots, turnovers, and bad passes.
But, as Schmidt rightfully noted, his team fought back. “We didn’t play great, but I thought we played hard and dealt with some adversity,” he said.
The Bonnies did it this time with a return to their style of play. They didn’t rely on the three, but decided to take it at the right time. They drove to the hoop, instead of passing inside. They held their ground defensively, and as a result, forced six turnovers.
Impressively, the Bonnies made their comeback without one of their most versatile players, Jaren Holmes. Holmes was forced to sit just seven minutes in with three fouls and was replaced by Alejandro Vasquez for the rest of the half.
Coincidentally, it was a Vasquez three that cut their deficit to three points.
So, the Bonnies went into halftime down five, after Jalen Adaway missed after a last-second jumper. The Bonnies didn’t make many mistakes during their comeback. The Billikens didn’t have a chance to make the Bonnies “pay for it”.
Out of halftime, the Bonnies took a 37-36 lead on two Adaway free-throws and two buckets from the reinstated Jaren Holmes, who made an immediate impact off the bench. Two Osun Osunniyi blocks in just over ten seconds led to a Lofton jumper that kept the game tied.
But this is where the Billikens’ depth began to show. While the Bonnies visibly ran out of gas down the stretch, Javonte Perkins heated up, scoring seven points in the span of just under three minutes. Other players from the SLU bench made key scoring contributions, such as Fred Thatch, Jr., Demarius Jacobs, and Marten Linssen. Schmidt made note of these players.
“It’s not like they came off with eight new guys; those two kids were the difference,” Schmidt said, referring to Jacobs and Linssen. They combined for 19 points.
But despite St. Bonaventure’s continued strength on defense, forcing six more turnovers in the second half, Saint Louis’ scoring attack never wavered. A late 9-0 run by the Billikens destroyed much hope of a Bonnies comeback. Seven points down, the Bonnies would still have a chance to comeback late with multiple fouls to give late in the game, but the effort would be to no avail.
Schmidt noted the energy and the momentum of his team, but he knows it may have come at the expense of execution.
“I knew our guys were going to meet the challenge physically, we just needed to play better,” Schmidt said. “That’s where we failed.”
St. Bonaventure falls to 9-2 on the season, and its seven-game winning streak— what had been the longest in the Atlantic 10—comes to an end. The Billikens are now 8-3 on the season, just a game behind the Bonnies overall.
As for the Atlantic 10 standings, the Bonnies remain atop the leaderboard at 7-2 in conference play. Right behind are Davidson and VCU at 6-2.
The Bonnies are back in action Wednesday against La Salle (8-11) at the Reilly Center, in a game moved up two weeks from its originally scheduled date, Feb. 24. That game will be on ESPN+.