COLUMN: Bona’s recent impediment of opposing stars key to defensive success

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — St. Bonaventure knew it needed a plan to slow down Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland.

The players knew that stopping Hyland, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, would be essential in defending VCU. They weren’t worried, however, about figuring out how they’d do it.

That task, as junior forward/center Osun Osunniyi said before the game, would be head coach Mark Schmidt’s responsibility. And, while Osunniyi and junior guard Jaren Holmes didn’t yet know on Wednesday what Schmidt’s plan for stopping Hyland would be, they knew he’d have the Bonnies ready.

“Schmidt, he’s a basketball genius,” Osunniyi said four days before Sunday’s final. “He’s going to look at film and find ways to see where (Hyland) has struggled and try to use that to our advantage.”

Holmes, despite calling Hyland a “tremendous shooter with unlimited range,” agreed with Osunniyi.

“Like (Osunniyi) said, we’ll let Schmidt deal with that,” Holmes said. “We’re just going to go out there and play. Schmidt’s going to have us ready and they’re going to have a game plan.”

Then came the final, played at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

When the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms at halftime, the Bonnies led by seven points. Hyland had zero. And he was 0-of-3 from the field.

Hyland picked up three fouls in the game’s first seven minutes. Two were offensive; one defensive. The sophomore guard subsequently sat for the rest of the half.

Hyland’s first point of the game came just under over two minutes into the second half, when he got to the line and hit a pair of free throws. His first field goal didn’t come for another seven minutes, as a layup with 9:11 left in the game broke his scoreless streak from the field.

Bona eventually won the game, 74-65, and led by double digits before Hyland got going offensively. Hyland finished with a game-high 21 points but only made four field goals, shot 4-of-11 from the field and scored 11 of his points from the free-throw line.

Schmidt and the Bonnies, the A-10’s best defensive team, slowed down Hyland when it mattered. They frustrated VCU’s top scorer. While impressive, the circumstance wasn’t isolated.

SBU held Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis’ leading scorer and a first-team all-league selection, to 11 points in its A-10 semifinal win over the Billikens. Nine of those points came in the second half, when Bona maintained a double-digit lead.

In the A-10 quarterfinals, SBU held Duquesne’s Marcus Weathers, the Dukes’ leading scorer and a second-team all-league selection, to six points.

In their final two regular season games, the Bonnies held two more first-team A-10 players, Davidson’s Kellan Grady and Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher, to two and six points, respectively.

Notice a trend?

In the last month, SBU has repeatedly limited the offensive output of opposing stars. That’s helped the team to a league-best 60.4 points allowed per game.

The only members of the A-10’s six-man first team that the Bonnies haven’t held to single-digit scoring this season are Hyland and Tre Mitchell, the UMass forward which the Bonnies did not play against this season.

The numbers are one thing. The players’ trust in Schmidt’s ability to game plan, however, is another.

Schmidt has said multiple times that he’s felt the teams that have had the most success throughout college basketball’s COVID-ridden season are those that stick together and rally around adversity. When a roster wants to play for a coach, as trusts a coach, as much as the Bonnies do Schmidt, those challenges become easier.

After winning the A-10 regular-season title and tournament on its way to a 16-4 record, ninth-seeded Bona finds itself pitted against No. 8 LSU (18-9) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.

If Schmidt plans to defend LSU by limiting its best player, he’ll have his hands full in doing so. Cameron Thomas, a freshman guard that will have his sights set on the NBA Draft in the near future, leads the Tigers’ offense with 22.6 points per game.

Checking in just behind Thomas are Trendon Watford (16.7 points per game) and Ja’Vonte Smart (15.9 ppg).

While we’ll learn of Schmidt’s defensive strategy against LSU on Saturday, his team’s success in limiting opposing stars this season has been undeniable down the stretch.

The nation’s eighth-best scoring offense, led by a top-20 NBA prospect, will be Schmidt’s biggest defensive challenge to date.

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