PREVIEW: Bona faces Saint Louis with A-10 final on the line

photo courtesy of Atlantic 10 conference

By Jeff Uveino

RICHMOND, VA — They beat St. Bonaventure in the 2019 Atlantic 10 championship game. They beat them by 23 points in Bona’s 2019-20 season finale. They beat them exactly one month ago.

Now, the Saint Louis men’s basketball team stands in the Bonnies’ path to the 2021 A-10 championship game.

After beating No. 9 Duquesne in Friday’s quarterfinals, No. 1 St. Bonaventure will play No. 4 Saint Louis at the Siegel Center on Saturday with a trip to next week’s A-10 final on the line.

The Billikens beat No. 5 Massachusetts, 86-72, in Friday’s quarterfinals, and a familiar face to Bona fans led the way for Saint Louis. Senior guard Javonte Perkins, who scored a game-high 21 points in SLU’s 70-59 defeat of the Bonnies on Feb. 6, scored a team-high 16 points on Friday.

Saint Louis’ senior class has developed as fierce a rivalry with SBU as any other A-10 team in its four seasons, as the Bonnies and Billikens have split six contests since 2017-18. The Bonnies took the first three games, two of which were won by a Jaylen Adams-led Bona team in 2018. However, since SBU beat the Billikens at the Reilly Center in 2018-19’s regular-season finale, Saint Louis has taken three straight.

If there’s one thing that Bona head coach Mark Schmidt’s team has done since its core of now-juniors joined the team prior to the 2018-19 season, however, it’s mature.

When Kyle Lofton, Dominick Welch and Osun Osunniyi started the 2019 A-10 championship game, all three were freshmen. While Schmidt said after Friday’s win that his players didn’t think about past games such as that defeat, he’s been consistently adamant about his team’s experience level this season.

“I’ve been lucky to have these experienced guys that know how to win,” said Schmidt, reiterating a point he’s made about his team since the preseason’s first press conference.

Lofton, Welch and Osunniyi have combined to make 210 starts for the Bonnies in just under three years.

The only matchup between the two defensive-minded teams this season was at Chaifitz Arena in Saint Louis, where the Billikens held the Bonnies to 36% shooting from the field while shooting it at 43% themselves. Bona junior guard Kyle Lofton scored a team-high 17 points in that game, while junior guard Jaren Holmes scored 12 points and junior forward Jalen Adaway tallied 10 points.

SBU is the A-10’s top defensive team, allowing an average of 60.5 points per game, while Saint Louis checks in at third in the league, giving up 64.7 points per game.

Saturday could be the last time that Bona battles SLU’s current senior class. Hasahn French, Javonte Perkins and Jordan Goodwin have each become familiar names to the SBU fans that have watched them beat their Bonnies three times in a row.

Now, Schmidt’s core of juniors gets a chance to avenge its recent losses to the Billikens. And, if they do, University of Dayton Arena and the A-10 championship game await them on March 14.

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