MLAX: After first win, Bonnies strive for more success in third season

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Dustyn Green

ST. BONVAENTURE, NY — Pride. 

That’s the feeling St. Bonaventure men’s lacrosse head coach Randy Mearns feels when he sees the work and grit his team is putting in to get better.

The Bonnies, in their third season since the return of SBU’s men’s lacrosse program, have been faced with many challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am really proud of our guys,” Mearns said. “They have been following all of the protocols and trying to stay in their groups. It is really tough on young people to do this, but our guys are doing a great job.” 

Despite the pandemic, Mearns and his staff have continued to build their program looking one game at a time. 

“It is a learning process,” Mearns said. “We had to adjust to the Division I level and build our program. We have been able to do that with our juniors, who have been here since year one. We continue to build our program with freshmen and sophomores.” 

Every game, including Saturday’s contest with Quinnipiac, provides a learning experience for Mearns’ crew. 

“There are a ton of pieces to a game, and every time we play, we learn something new about the game, and the way we need to play,” Mearns said.  We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to play well, in every game, if we want to get the win.” 

The third-year coach recognizes his team clinched a 13-6 victory against Quinnipiac on March 6, the program’s first victory since its return, but doesn’t want to let its hint of success be a distraction. 

“Quinnipiac is going to be a much different team, this time around,” Mearns said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to play well if we want to get the win.”

 Mearns was right, as Saturday’s rematch against Quinnipiac resulted in a defensive battle that SBU came out on the short side of, 5-4.

The loss dropped Bona’s record to 1-3 overall and 0-3 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (first game against Quinnipiac ruled a non-conference game) ahead of an April 3 home matchup against Manhattan. 

Mearns said the scene at SBU’s Marra Athletics Complex will look a little different soon, however.

According to Mearns, each student-athlete can soon have two family members attend the team’s home games. Members of the campus community are also encouraged to attend games at the Marra Athletic Complex. 

“It’s really exciting to see people in the stands, or on the hill,” Mearns said. “It gives the guys something to play for. I hope our guys play well for their parents. They can show mom and dad how much they have improved, and what Bonaventure lacrosse is about.” 

Mearns doesn’t often look at the future of his program, but when he does, he sees both “an interesting opportunity” and challenges.

Last year, the NCAA granted all student-athletes an additional year of eligibility. However, the Bonnies will not have to worry about that for one more season. Burns said some concerns include having the right graduate programs and the monetary aspect for his players.

“Those conversations have happened behind the scenes but will be decided later,” he said. 

Right now, though, the Bonnies have one goal in mind.

“We want to win our conference championship and make a run in the NCAA tournament.” 

SBU freshman reflects on NCAA Tournament run, community’s love for Bona hoops

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Ryan Surmay

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The typical response from someone when they hear of St. Bonaventure University is, “Where’s that?”  

For a school in Cattaraugus County, New York with just over 2,000 students, you wouldn’t expect much of a fanbase for sports.  

Unless you’ve experienced the school in person.

At SBU, you’ll find some of the most passionate basketball fans, with a massive following. You’ll find diehard fans that love and support their team like no other school. St. Bonaventure basketball is a community, and where no matter where you go, you’ll find fellow alumni and be greeted with a “Let’s Go Bona’s.” 

Since I’m a freshman, it was my first time experiencing the St. Bonaventure basketball atmosphere, other than the times I came to games with my family, since my mom is an alumnus.

I always watched the games when they were on TV, but after experiencing these moments as a student, I know why the school has some of the most passionate fans in the country, who would travel anywhere to support the team. 

So much so, many alumni and current students made the six-hour trip to UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio to support the team in the Atlantic 10 Championship game. Sitting in an arena that was only at 25% capacity, still, a majority of it was St. Bonaventure fans.

Seeing Osun Osunniyi have a monster volleyball spike-type block, or a Kyle Lofton 3-pointer that results in the crowd roar made me excited to be able to go to games at the Reilly Center next season.  

Because of COIVD-19, Bona’s win over VCU in the A-10 title game was the only contest Bonnies fans were able to attend in person. However, the community has supported the team all season in other ways.  

When the team left to go to Dayton, it seemed like the entire community stopped everything to show support.  Starting with just the students on campus standing in the parking lot outside the Reily Center cheering for the bus as it drove off, it then drove through downtown Allegany, where local businesses came outside to cheer and hold signs up for the bus parade.

Then, the buses drove by a local elementary school and saw children hold signs for the team as it passed by. That is what makes St Bonaventure so special, and is also why alumni often refer to the school as “the best place on earth.”

While the team matched up against LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament this season, a school with an enrollment of 34,290 students (which is 13.5x more people than St. Bonaventure with 2,540 students), not a single person was intimidated by their opponent.

The people at St. Bonaventure have heart and pride for their team — but most of all, confidence. Sadly, the game didn’t go SBU’s way, and they lost. But, right after the game, SBU-backing Twitter pages and websites gave their support in saying how proud they were to be a Bonnies fan. 

Whilen being one of the smallest schools in the tournament this year, St. Bonaventure has something that beats all other teams: heart.  

Bona men’s soccer navigates through spring season; awaits its “peak”

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Anthony Goss

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — After a long delay, the St. Bonaventure men’s soccer team returns to the pitch.  

Though the team’s season usually starts in the fall, COVID-19 concerns delayed its season until the spring. Nonetheless, the team welcomes the return of its sport.  

“When you’re away from the game for a while, I think it really makes you think,” goalkeeper Trevor Wilson said. “It made me realize how important it is to me.” 

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the Bonnies have a shortened schedule this season, consisting of only eight games in the regular season.  

“I think college soccer, in general, is pretty unorthodox,” Wilson said. “I wouldn’t say its concerning, you just have to adjust.” 

Though the team plans to adjust to the strange season upcoming, head coach Kwame Oduro has kept the same mentality throughout the extended offseason. He wants his club to treat this season just as any other. 

“Nothing has changed in what we are trying to accomplish,” Oduro said. “We take this season as serious as any season.” 

Luckily for Bona, they have several returning pieces with a foundation in place. The additional time before playing games granted the team the opportunity to develop their chemistry on the pitch.  

“Last year, most of the guys, including myself, were new and hadn’t played together a lot,” Wilson said. “We’ve come together in terms of knowing our system better, knowing how to play together.” 

One of the notable players early, Shea Currey, a senior, scored two goals in SBU’s first two matches. His leadership and playmaking have combined to give Bona a boost to begin the season.  

“He’s been one of our best players, not just a good leader,” Oduro said. “He’s always under control, calm on the ball, and it allows us to play through him and keep possession.” 

Along with Currey, Coach Oduro noted the development of senior Jaaziel Thompson and junior Cuneyt Vardar.  

“[They are] two guys who have stood out so far in our season,” Oduro said. 

The Bonnies won all three of their non-conference matches, doing so in dramatic fashion. All three were decided by one goal, and two matches had at least one overtime period.  

“I would rather just win, not in the dramatic fashion, I just want to win,” Oduro said. “But to do it the way we are doing it shows that we are mentally tough.” 

With much of their season still to go, the Bonnies believe they still have room to grow. Coaches and players have stressed hitting their “peak.” 

“I’m very excited to see what we’re capable of, because I think we have a lot of talent,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we have hit our peak yet.” 

Oduro also expressed excitement in his team’s search for its peak. 

“I don’t think we’ve played a complete game with everyone playing well,” Oduro said. “If that’s the case, and we’re winning, when we hit our peak, we can be better.” 

The Bonnies have amassed a 3-2-1 overall record. They lost back-to-back games to Duquesne and Saint Louis to begin Atlantic 10 play before working to a 1-1 draw at Dayton.

Bona will continue to search for its peak, but COVID-19 will continue to be the threat lurking outside the lines. Oduro has acknowledged the significance of the pandemic, but realizes his role in keeping his team focused on the season in front of them.  

“Whatever obstacle we encounter, it’s my job to find a way to get through it,” Oduro said. “We can’t use the pandemic as an excuse to be mediocre; we have to rise above it.” 

COLUMN: Bona’s loss to SEC foe LSU draws comparisons to 2018 NCAA defeat

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

BLOOMINGTON, IN — Maybe it was the identical margins of defeat.

Maybe it was the nearly identical final scores. Or the conference that the two opponents share.

Whatever it was, when the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lost to LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, my mind could not shake SBU’s 2018 tournament loss to Florida.

Three years ago, the Jaylen Adams-led Bonnies were knocked out in the Round of 64 by Florida, 77-62, in Dallas. They shot 35% from the field and 16% from 3-point range, and fell behind in the first half before failing to assemble a comeback.

On Saturday, on the campus of Indiana University, the Bonnies were bested by LSU, 76-61. They shot 33% from the floor and 15% from distance, and trailed the entirety of the second half after going into halftime down by nine.

Maybe the feeling was justified.

Bona is now 0-3 against Southeastern Conference teams since Kentucky eliminated the Bonnies from the tournament in 2000. That game came down to the last possession, while the two more recent games had been decided long before.

Bona fans maintain optimism until zeros fill the clock. In 2018, that was the case. While the Bonnies had been out-played in the first half, a late-game comeback felt imminent, especially for a team that had won 14 of its last 15 games.

The same feeling filled Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday, as the 500-or-so SBU fans that acquired tickets to the game held out hope that the Bonnies would find some second-half magic.

However, it never happened.

It didn’t in 2018. It didn’t in 2021. Instead of the thrill of a comeback, Bona fans felt the helplessness of the game clock slipping away.

While their playing styles varied, both teams were talented. Adams and Matt Mobley’s group shot the ball as well as any team in the Atlantic 10 (39% from distance), and rarely had as poor of a shooting night as it did against the Gators.

This year’s squad, led by a core of juniors that has grown up in front of the community’s eyes over the last three seasons, didn’t shoot the ball as well as 2018’s team. It did, however, defend as well as almost any team in the country, and its 60.4 points allowed per game was the fifth-best clip in the nation entering the tournament.

A poor shooting night from Kyle Lofton’s Bonnies was less surprising than one from Adams’ Bonnies. However, LSU out-rebounded and out-defended the former, beating SBU at its own game.

Despite the similarities that populate the pair of losses, one glaring difference exists that can’t be found in the box score: one team didn’t get another chance. The other will.

Adams, Mobley and Idris Taquee played the last game of their college careers against Florida. That season, successful enough for Bona to secure its second at-large bid to the tournament in program history, was the culmination of Adams’ four-year career at SBU.

The Bonnies added weapons for Adams along the way, such as Mobley and then-junior Courtney Stockard. It was the group’s best chance at a tournament run. Its only chance, really, after being excluded from the tournament in 2016 and failing to qualify the year after.

However, 2021’s group will get another shot to advance Bona past the Round of 64 for the first time since 1970. There won’t be any tricks or gimmicks involved.

They’re just all underclassmen.

Jaren Holmes, a guard that transferred to the program before the 2019-20 season, acknowledged that opportunity after LSU ended his junior season. While the sting of Saturday’s loss will be felt long after the flight back to Western New York, the Bonnies have the rare opportunity to bring their entire roster back from an NCAA Tournament team.

“To make it with these guys and to make it with these coaches and the year we had, I know for a fact that everybody back in Olean is happy and proud of us,” Holmes said.

Based on the hundreds of people that lined the streets of Olean, Allegany and the university as the Bonnies departed for Dayton ahead of last week’s A-10 championship, Holmes is right.

This season was one of the most important in program history. The Bonnies won the A-10 regular-season and tournament in the same year for the first time ever. They received a single-digit seed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.

Perhaps head coach Mark Schmidt will be playing with house money next year. Regardless, Holmes and the Bonnies will be back. He said so himself.

“We’ll be back,” Holmes said. “We’ll be back for sure. That’s all I have to say. We’ll be back. We’re not going to stop working. We’ll be back.”

MBB: Historic Bona season ends at hands of LSU

photo courtesy of 2021 NCAA photos

By Jeff Uveino

BLOOMINGTON, IN — The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s offense had been fickle since November. 

Mark Schmidt’s team hadn’t counted on its offense to win games on its way to the NCAA Tournament, instead relying on a top-ten defense.

While 3-point shooting came and went, defending, rebounding and taking care of the basketball were constants. Against LSU on Saturday, however, the Bonnies were bested at two of their strengths.

No. 9 SBU (16-5) never found its way back from a first-half deficit and lost to No. 8 LSU (19-9), 76-61, in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

It started with poor first-half shooting. The Bonnies labored to a 22% mark from the field in the first half, paired with an 0-of-10 3-point shooting performance.

By halftime, Bona trailed by nine points. SBU’s defense held its weight throughout the first stanza, holding the Tigers to 31 points on 36% shooting and a 3-of-14 mark from 3-point range.

“I thought we were getting some good looks in the first half, and we were missing some shots,” said Schmidt, SBU’s head coach. “As I said, offense is fickle. But I thought we were getting some decent looks.”

As the Bonnies started to find offensive rhythm in the second half, LSU did the same. Junior forward Darius Days began the half with a 3-pointer for the Tigers, and from there, Bona failed to muster a comeback. Despite repeatedly counter-punching LSU’s eighth-ranked offense, the Bonnies never cut the lead to less than nine.

LSU’s rebounding on both ends of the floor helped the Tigers keep their distance. The Tigers finished the game with a 49-30 rebounding advantage, 14 of which came on the offensive glass.

While LSU only scored two more points in the paint than the Bonnies, the Tigers enjoyed an 18-8 advantage in second-chance points.

“That’s one of our strengths,” Schmidt said of rebounding. “We got out-rebounded by 19; second-chance points by 10. So that was a big difference.”

Freshman guard Cam Thomas scored a game-high 27 points for the Tigers. Thomas heated up in the second half after a 1-of-8 first half from the field and got to the free-throw line 13 times, making 11 of his attempts.

“(Thomas) is a great player,” Bona junior guard Jaren Holmes said. “It was a very tough assignment. One of the things was trying to keep him off the foul line. I don’t know how many foul shots he got… but we did the best we could.”

Holmes, who scored a team-high 18 points for the Bonnies, said that his team “did what we were supposed to do,” but poor shooting limited its opportunity for offensive success.

“That’s basketball,” Holmes said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t fall. Those are shots we want. Those are shots we normally hit.”

Days and sophomore guard Aundre Hyatt each scored 13 points for LSU, while sophomore forward Trendon Watford added 11 points.

“You get down, and I thought the key going into the game was we gotta control tempo,” Schmidt said. “If you look at the score, we held them below their average, and I thought we did a decent job on everybody but Thomas. They hurt us on the backboard. But when you get down, you’ve got to push the ball and you’ve got to play a little bit quicker, and that’s to their advantage.”

Of Schmidt’s three evergreen keys to victory, protecting the basketball was the one category in which Bona succeeded. SBU only turned the ball over four times while forcing nine turnovers. The nine that they caused, however, only resulted in five points.

Junior forward/center Osun Osunniyi scored 15 points and pulled down nine rebounds for the Bonnies. Osunniyi, the Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year, looked confident while protecting the rim in the first half. As the Tigers got hot in the second half, however, they drew Osunniyi from under the basket and began to find more success scoring in the paint.

“They’re a good team, athletic team,” Schmidt said. “Like I said, I thought we got some good looks. We missed some shots early. But they’re a good team, you know, and they were disciplined, they were focused, and when they play like that, they’re hard to beat.”

Junior forward Jalen Adaway scored 11 points for the Bonnies in his return to his native state to Indiana, while junior guard Kyle Lofton scored 10 points and dished out five assists. Lofton struggled from the field in the first half, shooting 1-of-10, before finishing at 3-of-18.

Bona junior guard Dominick Welch, one of the team’s best defenders, missed time in the first half after turning an ankle during a scramble for a loose ball. Welch returned to the game late in the first half and played the rest of the way, but the pain from his foot was visible the rest of the way.

“Yeah, it hurt,” Schmidt said. “(Welch) played like at 50%. Give (Welch) credit. He’s a really tough kid and he was hurting, as you saw. Went back in to get re-taped and he was a shell of himself.”

While Bona’s season ended between the walls of the historic Assembly Hall, Indiana University’s cathedral of basketball in which the Hoosiers have played for 50 years, the program can find solace in knowing that it doesn’t graduate a single senior.

Still, Holmes said, the pain that comes with the end of this group’s NCAA Tournament run will sting long beyond the bus ride home to Western New York.

“Every guy in that locker room is a competitor, and I know one thing about a competitor is he wants to be the best and continue to be the best, and right now today we weren’t the best,” Holmes said. “That’s a problem for us. That’s going to be in our heads for a long time. But it’s just going to make us better, and it’s going to just make us keep fighting and working hard and coming closer together.”

LSU advances to the tournament’s second round, in which it will face top-seeded Michigan. From there, three more wins secure the East region title and a spot in the Final Four.

Disappointment will accompany Schmidt’s group on its way home. However, after a season in which the Bonnies won the A-10 regular-season title and A-10 tournament for the first time in the same year, the 14th-year coach knows that he has as much to be proud of as ever.

“It’s good that they’re disappointed,” Schmidt said. “I’m disappointed. You put so much into it. If you’re not disappointed, there’s something wrong. So we’ll get the 24-hour rule and we’ll realize, as I told the team in the locker room, we did some amazing things.”

NCAA PREVIEW: Bona defense faces biggest test of season in LSU

photo courtesy of Atlantic 10 conference

By Jeff Uveino

BLOOMINGTON, IN — Offense comes and goes. Defense is the staple.

That’s been the identity of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team this season. While the Bonnies and head coach Mark Schmidt haven’t produced flashy offensive numbers, they’ve allowed 60.4 points per game en route to a 16-4 record.

That number makes the Bonnies the fifth-best scoring defense in the country. On Saturday against LSU, they’ll need it.

After receiving a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament, SBU drew eighth-seeded LSU (18-9) in the tournament’s first round. The Tigers, which are coming off of a one-point loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title game, boast the nation’s eighth-best scoring offense.

The Bonnies have frustrated, bullied and stymied many of the Atlantic 10’s best offense players this season. Head coach Will Wade’s Tigers, and their multiple NBA prospects, however, will be Schmidt and SBU’s biggest test to date.

“If the (scoring) is in the 80s on Saturday, we’re probably not going to win,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got to somehow control the tempo and keep those guys out of the paint.”

LSU scores 82.1 points per game and features three players that each average over 15. Freshman guard Cameron Thomas, a projected first-round NBA Draft pick, averages a team-best 22.6 points per game. He leads a potent group of guards that spread the ball in Wade’s “five-out” offense, giving all five players on the floor the ability to shoot the 3-point shot.

“It’s almost like an NBA-type of style of play,” Schmidt said. “(We will) try to get back in transition and force them into the five-on-five game as much as we can. You can’t be one-on-one. If they isolate us, they’re probably better than us one-on-one.”

Joining Thomas in LSU’s backcourt is Javonte Smart, a junior that averages 15.9 points per game and shoots the 3-ball at a team-best 42% clip. Darius Days, a 6-7 junior forward, shoots nearly 40% from distance and averages 11.7 points per game.

If that weren’t enough, sophomore forward Trendon Watford averages 16.7 points per game. The Tigers’ desire to spread the ball out and run isolated offensive plays hinders their ability to feature a true under-the-basket presence, but Watford’s skill set allows him to play that role when needed.

“Keeping the ball above the foul line, being able to guard your yard, keeping the guys in front of you, is going to be very important,” Schmidt said. “They play a five-out offense, a lot of dribble-drives and isolations, so it’s really important for us to be able to guard them one-on-one. But, at the same time, get guys in the gaps and really try to force contested jump-shots.”

Slowing down LSU’s offense will be a team effort for Bona, which has only allowed more than 70 points twice this season. One of those instances came in SBU’s season opener against Akron, while the other came against A-10 foe La Salle. Both were double-digit Bona victories.

“We’ve got to play great team defense, and we need to rebound the basketball and keep them to one shot,” Schmidt said. “It’s the Southeast Conference. They’ve got SEC athletes, high-major guys, but it’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to.”

Osun Osunniyi, the A-10 defensive player of the year, has anchored SBU’s defense all season. The junior forward/center has seemed to continually improve on the defensive end as the season has gone on, however, culminating with a 13-block A-10 tournament that contributed to him being named Most Outstanding Player.

While Schmidt will rely on his guards to limit the Tigers on the perimeter, Osunniyi’s rim-protecting capability will be key.

“Where we’re at, a lot has to do with (Osunniyi) on the defensive end blocking shots,” Schmidt said. “That’s going to be a critical thing against LSU, but at the same time, LSU is going to try to pull him away from the basket.”

Another point of concern for Bona fans is LSU’s size, as Thomas’ 6-4 frame is the smallest in the Tigers’ starting lineup. Schmidt, however, feels that the Bonnies have enough size to match-up.

“It’s not like we’re going in there with 5-8 guards going up against 6-4; we match up in terms of size,” Schmidt said. “That’s not a concern; it’s the athleticism. Like I said, they’ve got two first-round picks.”

Bona junior guard Kyle Lofton pointed to LSU’s size, length and speed as points of interest in Bona’s defensive planning. A key to SBU’s defensive success has been limiting opposing star players, or as Schmidt and his players say, the “knowns.” LSU features more “knowns” than the Bonnies are used to seeing in the A-10.

“Usually, it’s one known or two knowns, but I feel like they have four knowns,” Lofton said. “It’s a good test for us to see where we’re at, and we’ve just got to be ready to come out and play.”

While Bona prides itself on winning games on the defensive end, Lofton was quick to mention the team’s offensive potential. The Bonnies score an average of 70.5 points per game, with each starter averaging in double digits.

“Obviously, the goal is to keep it a low-scoring game and grind it out on defense, but I feel like we have five players that can have a big game on any given night,” Lofton said. “The scoring, sometimes it’s not there, but I feel like in moments like this, good players shine, and we have good players.”

Bona’s starters have taken turns filling the offensive spotlight this season.

Lofton did so in the team’s A-10 championship victory over VCU with a game-high 23 points. Before that, juniors Jalen Adaway and Jaren Holmes combined for 32 points in SBU’s semifinal win over Saint Louis, and Osunniyi and junior guard Dominick Welch each scored 18 points against Duquesne in the quarterfinals.

Lofton leads the unselfish group with 14.6 points per game. Schmidt said that it could be Osunniyi, however, that keys his offense against the Tigers.

“We’ll try to go inside with (Osunniyi) and try to get him going to the basket on some screen-and-rolls and stuff. But like I said, when (Osunniyi) is scoring the ball inside for us, we’re a better team.

Schmidt added that the Bonnies would likely run their offense from the inside-out, whether it be via the pass or the dribble.

“When we’re open, we’ve got to make some (3-pointers),” Schmidt said. “There are a lot of things that are going to be important. Transition defense, rebounding the ball, keeping them to one shot, staying out of foul trouble.”

Regardless of what Schmidt and his assistants draw up to defend and attack LSU, Lofton said that the players’ mindset ahead of the game remains the same that it’s been all season: trust the coaches’ game-plan.

“That’s why we have great coaches,” Lofton said. “The coaches will handle that well, and we’ve just got to follow the game-plan and come ready to play.”

The Bonnies and Tigers are scheduled to tip-off from Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, and the game will be broadcasted nationally on TNT. The Tigers were 1.5-point favorites as of Friday.

“Like I said, good players live up to these moments,” Lofton said. “You don’t shy away from these moments, and they have a lot of great players, so you know a lot of people will be watching this game. I just want to get St. Bonaventure’s name even more on the map.”

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.

MBB: Bonnies win A-10 championship; punch ticket to NCAA tournament

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — If there was a checklist for winning an Atlantic 10 championship game, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team had checked all but one box two years ago.

That final box, as junior guard Dominick Welch had said the week before this year’s final, was finishing.

SBU had came within eight minutes of an A-10 championship against Saint Louis two years ago, but fell short in the game’s final minutes.  Welch, Osun Osunniyi and Kyle Lofton, who each started that game as freshmen, made sure the same thing didn’t happen on Sunday.

The top-seeded Bonnies (16-4) built a first-half lead and didn’t give it up on their way to beating No. 2 VCU (19-7), 74-65, at UD Arena.

After sitting with four fouls for five minutes of the second half, Welch provided the dagger.

With 1:16 left in the game, the Bonnies leading by eight and the shot clock winding down, Welch pivoted away from a defender and nailed a 3-pointer.

The Bona lead became 12 points. The pro-Bona crowd that made the 400-mile trip to Dayton broke into a frenzy. And, moments later, SBU head coach Mark Schmidt raised his hands above his head as he embraced his staff, overcome with emotion.

For the second time in program history, the Bonnies won the Atlantic 10 tournament. They’ll represent the Atlantic 10 as the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“Two years ago, four of our guys couldn’t finish,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t finish that game and we lost, and a lot of times you don’t get a second chance in life. We got a second chance, and those guys finished.”

Welch finished with 13 points while Lofton scored 23 points and handed out six assists. Perhaps the player of the game, however, and the most valuable player of the tournament, was Osun Osunniyi.

The junior forward/center finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Like his teammates that experienced 2019’s A-10 final, the 55-53 loss had been stuck in his head ever since.

“Yeah, it was on our mind,” Osunniyi said. “We were one shot away from where we are right now. That’s been on my mind, (Lofton’s) mind. The guys who came in our class that are juniors now, that’s been on our mind since day one and it was on our mind when we faced Saint Louis in the semifinals.”

Osunniyi’s presence under the rim throughout the tournament, despite not having its own column on the stat sheet, was paramount to the success of SBU’s defense.

“We didn’t change what got us (here),” Schmidt said. “We defended, we rebounded and we took care of the basketball. Against VCU, a talented team that is so well coached, if you don’t take care of the basketball… when they get numbers, it’s lethal.”

Defense, as Schmidt has said for weeks, continues to be Bona’s staple. SBU’s efforts to limit VCU leading scorer and A-10 player of the year Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland were largely successful despite Hyland’s team-high 21 points.

Hyland sat for over 10 minutes in the first half after picking up three early fouls. The sophomore guard scored all of his points in the second half, many of which came after the Bonnies had built a double-digit lead.

“The goal was to deny him the ball as much as we could,” Schmidt said. “He’s just a talented guy. One thing we didn’t do, and especially in the second half, was we fouled him too many times.”

Hyland was 4-of-11 from the field, most of his points coming from an 11-of-12 free-throw shooting performance.

“When you lose your best player, the team’s not going to be as good,” Schmidt said. “You knew that he was going to come back and be aggressive in the second half, but I thought our guys did a really good job making it hard for him.”

Hyland’s efforts brought his team within seven points midway through the second half, but Bona prevented the Rams from coming all the way back. Vince Williams Jr. tallied 12 points and nine rebounds for the Rams while Josh Banks scored 10 points.

Jaren Holmes scored nine points and pulled down seven rebounds for Bona while Jalen Adaway scored 10 points. Osunniyi, Lofton and Adaway were each included on the all-tournament team.

“It’s a special group,” Schmidt said. “Not that the other groups aren’t special, but in the moment now, I hold these guys close to my heart. They endured a lot of things this year and were able to come through.”

SBU’s second NCAA tournament in four years marks the third time that the Bonnies will go “dancing” under Schmidt. They first did it in 2012 after winning the A-10 tournament as the No. 4 seed, then received an at-large bid in 2018.

Bona received a No. 9 seed in this year’s tournament, and will play No. 8 LSU on Saturday in Indianapolis in the tournament’s first round. For Lofton, Osunniyi and many more, playing in the NCAA tournament will fulfill a childhood dream.

“Going to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament is like a dream come true,” Lofton said. “Since kids, we’ve been working for that, and to finally live the dream is amazing.”

For Schmidt, the chance to take basketball-crazed St. Bonaventure back to the NCAA tournament is priceless. Schmidt has rebuilt the program over his 14 years as head coach, and now continues to oversee one of the most successful periods in the program’s history.

“The smiles on our guys’ faces: that’s what you coach for,” Schmidt said. “Those are the memories that will last a lifetime. You see those big smiles, and how proud and satisfied the players are. For them, this is a dream come true. When you’re playing in the backyard or down at the playground, this is what you dream of.”