MBB: Bona begins to shape ’22 roster

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Anthony Goss

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — After one of its best seasons in program history, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team has had an eventful offseason.  

Though the Bonnies have kept their starting five intact, their entire bench production from last season has entered the transfer portal. This leaves SBU with several open scholarship spots for next season.  

Luckily for Bona, head coach Mark Schmidt and his staff have already begun to fill some of the gaps that resulted from the transfer portal.  

Barring any unforeseen events, Bona will maintain its starting five of Kyle Lofton, Dominick Welch, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway and Osun Osunniyi. This core of seniors-to-be has seen favor in the eyes of many notable analysts, which project the Bonnies as a top-20 team to start next season.  

Led by this group, the 2021-22 team will likely begin the fall as the favorite to repeat as A-10 champions.  

One of the big issues for the reigning A-10 champs in their 2020-21 campaign was depth.  

Early-season departures from forward Justin Winston and guard Anthony Roberts forced the Bonnies into a rotation that consisted of only six to seven players depending on the night. Alejandro Vasquez and Jalen Shaw headlined the bench rotation for Bona, but were used sparingly.  

Vasquez provided immediate shooting and scoring off the bench. He averaged 4.4 points per game and shot 34.8% from 3-point range. Against Duquesne, Vasquez shined with an 11-point effort at the Reilly Center and shot 2-of-4 from beyond the arc.   

Shaw came in relief of Osunniyi when the starting center was in foul trouble, or if head coach Mark Schmidt needed to buy time for Osunniyi to rest. 

Eddie Creal and Alpha Okoli have also entered the portal. Both had trouble finding time on the floor since Schmidt started four guards and Vasquez was the first option of the bench. Creal spent only one year with the team, while Okoli has been at Bona for three seasons.  

The first addition to the team came with the commitment of Quadry Adams.  

(graphic courtesy of SBUnfurled)

With lofty expectations for next year’s squad, the team needs to fill the spots left vacant by the players who are now in the portal. In filling these spots thus far, the staff has not only tried to create a sound rotation for next year, but also seems to be piecing together the future of the program. 

Adams, a sophomore transfer from Wake Forest, only averaged eight minutes per game last season in nine games played. At St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Adams had a stellar career and his senior stat line consisted of 18.5 points-per-game, 3.2 assists-per-game, and 2.7 steals-per-game. 

Adams will look to make an impact off the bench this season, and could start after the seniors depart from the program. 

Abdoul Karim Coulibaly started 20 of 22 games last year at Pittsburgh. Coulibaly will provide depth in the frontcourt, something Bona desperately needs. 

Coulibaly will have three years of eligibility if he chooses. Like Adams, Coulibaly could see a much bigger responsibility in the years to come.  

Bona will have plenty of guards next year, but perhaps none taller than Justin Ndjock-Tadjore. 

The 6-7 guard hails from Quebec and has four years of eligibility. Ndjock-Tadjore is athletic and extremely long. He can shoot from outside, but also get by his man and use his size to finish over defenders in the paint.  

Finally, the Bonnies added 6-9 center Oluwasegun Durosinmi from Harcum College. 

His 7’2 wingspan makes him a ferocious shot blocker, evidenced by the four blocks per-game average at Harcum. If Durosinmi finds his way into the rotation, the Bonnies will be able to hold an extreme length advantage inside every time they take the floor. 

Another commit with four years of eligibility, Durosinmi looks like the perfect replacement for Osunniyi.  

Schmidt will likely maintain his traditional ways of keeping a short rotation, but regardless, the Bonnies will have a strong supporting cast to compete for minutes to help the starters. Over 90% of the Bonnies scoring and minutes came from the starters.

Next season, Schmidt should have a more balanced team and a deeper team that should garner some national attention.  

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.”

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.”

MBB: Osunniyi, Adaway frustrate Saint Louis; Bonnies punch ticket back to A-10 final

photo courtesy of Atlantic 10 conference

By Jeff Uveino

RICHMOND, VA— Mark Schmidt has admitted that his team’s offensive efficiency comes and goes. Schmidt’s defense, however, continues to be the staple that wins games for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team.

The No. 1 Bonnies (15-4), the Atlantic 10’s top-ranked defensive team, frustrated No. 4 Saint Louis (14-6) on the defensive end of the floor on their way to beating the Billikens, 71-53, in an A-10 tournament semifinal at the Siegel Center on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi made his presence felt in the post from the game’s start.

The junior center tallied eight points, five rebounds and seven blocks while matching the signature physicality that Saint Louis brings in the paint. Osunniyi’s presence under the basket could be felt around the arena, as he repeatedly rejected Billiken shots in a first half that saw six of his blocks.

“I thought that (Osunniyi) was terrific,” said Schmidt, SBU’s 14th-year head coach. “He was the difference defensively. He was the eraser. He was the rim protector, and he did so much for us defensively.”

The Bonnies, which allow a league-best 60.1 points per game, held the Billikens to 37% shooting from the field and 29% from 3-point range. Holding an opponent to under 40% shooting, as Schmidt has said periodically, is a goal of his team each game.

“From a defensive standpoint, we couldn’t have played better,” Schmidt said. “Saint Louis is a very physical team and they dominated us in St. Louis earlier in the year. I thought that the key to the game was that we needed to control the paint.”

Bona avenged a regular-season loss to the Billikens that came exactly one month before Saturday’s victory. In that game, SLU out-scored Bona 20-18 in the paint, while SBU built a 34-20 advantage in that category on Saturday.

“We didn’t play on our heels. I thought that in game one, they knocked us back and we played on our heels,” Schmidt said. “You need to play downhill against Saint Louis, against those physical, athletic bodies. I thought we did a good job of playing downhill.”

While Osunniyi anchored Bona’s defensive unit, Jalen Adaway kept SBU’s offense rolling in a second half that Bona led for its entirety. Adaway scored a game-high 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, while also pulling down seven rebounds.

Adaway said that SBU’s quick start, including the 11-2 lead that it assembled to start the game, was key.

“We’ve been harping on things like that the whole year, just coming out energetic from the jump,” Adaway said. “Tonight especially, we just emphasized coming out from the jump and getting on top, playing confident and playing our game.”

Schmidt praised Adaway’s effort on both ends of the floor, saying that he played “extremely well.”

“He’s not the biggest guy, but I thought he defended the block really well,” Schmidt said. “He scored for us and moved the ball both ways.”

The Bonnies used bench scoring to jump on the Billikens early. Sophomore guard AJ Vasquez came on to replace Adaway in the game’s first minute while Adaway was treated for a bloody nose.

Vasquez gave the Bonnies an immediate boost by hitting two 3-pointers. Dominick Welch, who scored a game-high 18 points in SBU’s quarterfinal win over Duquesne on Friday, hit a triple of his own shortly after. The Bonnies navigated the rest of the half without the junior guard, however, after he picked up his second foul.

Bona took a 33-25 lead into halftime before dominating a second half in which they shot 52% from the field. SBU entered the game as two-point underdogs, but led by 22 points at the under-eight media timeout. By that point, a Saint Louis comeback was far from in the works.

“We really emphasize patience because the defense is going to lead the offense,” Adaway said. “We have so many talented players offensively that it’s going to come. Just locking in on defense really opens things up and makes it a lot easier for us.”

Jaren Holmes finished with 15 points for the Bonnies, nine of which came in the second half. The junior guard also pulled down seven rebounds and dished out three assists. Kyle Lofton earned his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Welch scored nine points to round out the SBU starting five.

Jordan Goodwin scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Saint Louis, while Javonte Perkins scored 10 points.

SBU now advances to its fifth A-10 tournament championship in program history, a game in which the Bonnies are 1-3. Their lone A-10 championship came over Xavier in the 2012 tournament, while their most recent trip to the final was 2019’s loss to Saint Louis.

Bona will have eight off-days before the final, which will be held at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio on March 14. SBU will play No. 2 VCU, with which it split two regular-season games.

“We’ve won playing half-court defense and rebounding the ball,” Schmidt said. “And today, we did well at both ends.”

Osunniyi’s seven blocks gave him 47 on the season, a league-best average of 2.61 per game.

“He’s a special player, especially a defensive player, and there isn’t anybody better,” Schmidt said.

Adaway agreed with his head coach.

“Defensive player of the year,” he said of Osunniyi.”He has to be.”

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.

MBB: Bonnies hold off Duquesne in Atlantic 10 quarterfinals

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

RICHMOND, VA — The last time Dominick Welch, Osun Osunniyi and Kyle Lofton had played in the Atlantic 10 tournament, they fell eight minutes short of a conference championship.

That was in 2019, when the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lost a second-half lead to Saint Louis, abruptly ending the Bonnies’ run at the NCAA tournament. Two years later, the top-seeded Bonnies (14-4) avoided a second-half comeback by No. 9 Duquesne (9-9) and beat the Dukes, 75-59, in Friday’s A-10 quarterfinals at the Siegel Center.

Welch scored a game-high 18 points for the Bonnies while pulling down nine rebounds. The junior guard shot 7-of-15 from the floor and 4-of-10 from 3-point range.

SBU dominated the Dukes on both ends of the floor in the first half, taking a 40-19 lead into halftime. Duquesne cut into that lead in the second half, going on a 12-0 run in less than two minutes of game time. Emotion filled the arena during DU’s comeback, culminating in a bench-clearing scuffle at mid-court that resulted in an “administrative technical,” as it was called by the public address announcer, being called on the Bonnies.

“I thought we lost some focus,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said of the Duquesne comeback. “We got lackadaisical, loose with the ball. Duquesne upped their pressure a little bit, we didn’t handle it that well.”

Jaren Holmes ended the run by hitting a floater, which he followed with a dunk after a Duquesne turnover. After a media timeout with 12 minutes remaining, the Bonnies regained control of the game and didn’t give it back.

“Sitting in the timeout, letting the guys know, we’re still up by 10, so we were still in decent shape but we needed to make a run,” Schmidt said. “I thought our guys refocused and they got some stops, got some buckets and that was the game.”

Holmes, a junior guard, scored 14 points for the Bonnies, while Osunniyi stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. During the Dukes’ comeback, Osunniyi said that Schmidt told his team to keep its composure.

“We knew that they were going to make a run, they’re a good team,” Osunniyi said. “So, while they were figuring everything out, (Schmidt) just told us to relax, play loose, play to win and we got our composure back and played our game.”

Bona made a conscious effort to get the ball to Osunniyi in the post, which the junior forward/center said shrinks opposing defenses.

“It’s easier for my teammates to make shots when the ball is coming inside out, so you want to go inside early,” Osunniyi said. “Because if I’m being a presence inside, it kind of shrinks the defense to come help me more.”

He was equally impactful on the defensive end of the floor, where he battled with Duquesne senior center Michael Hughes for much of the game.

“I thought (Osunniyi) was terrific offensively, but more important, defensively,” Schmidt said. “Blocking shots. That was a huge key.”

Hughes led Duquesne with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Tavian Dunn-Martin and Tyson Acuff each scored 12 points. Bona held Marcus Weathers, Duquesne’s leading scorer that had averaged over 16 points per game going into Friday’s contest, to three points.

This was Bona’s third victory over the Dukes this season, as SBU has held Duquesne to an average of 57 points per game.

“We got some stuff off of our defense, got some stuff in the open court,” Schmidt said. “I thought against Dayton (on Monday), we were sluggish with the ball, the ball was sticking… we moved the ball from side-to-side a little bit better today in the first half.”

Junior forward Jalen Adaway scored 12 points for SBU, while Lofton scored 11 points and handed out five assists. The Bonnies shot 49% from the field while holding Duquesne to 34% shooting from the field and 25% from 3-point range.

With the win, the Bonnies advance to Saturday’s semifinals, where they’ll play No. 4 Saint Louis in a rematch of the fateful 2019 A-10 championship game. While much speculation exists over their NCAA tournament chances, Friday’s win moved the Bonnies a step closer to a berth.

“Our guys have done a really good job of being able to turn the page,” Schmidt said. “The task at hand today was to leave 1-0.”

Despite the hype surrounding a potential NCAA appearance in Indianapolis in two weeks, Schmidt said that the team still has business to take care of in Richmond.

“We didn’t come (to Richmond) to go 1-0, we came here to go 2-0, and now we’re halfway there,” Schmidt said. “Now we’ve got to go back, get some rest and hopefully we can play better (Saturday).”

PREVIEW: Bonnies head to Richmond as A-10’s top seed for first time

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

RICHMOND, VA — Each of the last three Atlantic 10 tournaments have presented adversity for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team. This year’s tournament will be no different.

Three years ago, the Bonnies entered the tournament on a 13-game winning streak, only to be bounced in the semifinals and left at the mercy of a selection committee in hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Two years ago, the A-10’s top three seeds were defeated before the tournament’s final, leaving No. 4 SBU to play No. 6 Saint Louis in the championship game. As many Bona fans remember, it didn’t work out.

Then, last season, the Bonnies traveled to Barclays Center but didn’t get a chance to play before COVID-19 concerns canceled the tournament before its first Thursday game.

This year, St. Bonaventure will begin the A-10 tournament in a place it never has before: first.

After winning the A-10 regular-season championship for the first time in program history, SBU enters the 2021 tournament as its top seed. Despite the unprecedented circumstance head coach Mark Schmidt’s team faces, he said that SBU has prepared for the tournament no differently than in years past.

“Everybody is 0-0,” Schmidt said. “Everybody is trying to win a game and move on, and that’s our mentality. We don’t look at it as, ‘We’re the No. 1 seed, we’ve got all this pressure.’ We understand, and we’re proud to win the conference. It was a great accomplishment for our program. But we all start at 0-0.”

Three SBU starters will be playing in their second A-10 tournament, as juniors Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi and Dominick Welch each started the A-10 championship game two years ago. That experience, Schmidt said, continues to serve his team well.

“We have experienced guys that understand what it takes to be successful,” Schmidt said. “We’re not always successful; we just lost our last game against Dayton. But it’s not because we weren’t prepared.”

Because they’re a top-four seed in the tournament, the Bonnies will receive a double-bye into its quarterfinals, as they have in two of the last three years. SBU awaits the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup between No. 8 Richmond and No. 9 Duquesne.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re going to play,” Schmidt said. “They’re all going to be difficult. Every team is good, and if you don’t play your “A” game in this league, you’re going to lose. We have all the respect in the world for Richmond and Duquesne.”

Bona already owns wins over the Spiders and Dukes this season, the former of which came on a Lofton buzzer-beater at Richmond in early January that propelled SBU to a 69-66 win.

“(Richmond head coach Chris) Mooney has been in the league longer than I have,” Schmidt said. “They run the same stuff; they run it really well. (Grant) Golden is one of, if not the, best big man in the league. Everything goes through him. They’ve got great guards.”

Golden, a graduate forward, has averaged 12.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season. Blake Francis, a graduate guard, leads the Spiders in scoring with 16.1 points per game.

Duquesne has been one of Bona’s most familiar A-10 opponents as of late, as SBU is 7-1 against the Dukes since 2017. Two of those victories came eight days apart this season, as Bona beat Duquesne at home, 62-48, before besting the Dukes in Pittsburgh, 65-61.

“Duquesne is a power team,” Schmidt said. “Everything goes into the post. They’ve got guys that can shoot from the perimeter, and the better they shoot from the perimeter, the more effective they are.”

Senior forward Marcus Weathers averages a team-high 16 points for the Dukes, but has only scored 22 total points in DU’s two meetings with the Bonnies this season.

“We don’t know who we’re going to play, so we work on concepts,” Schmidt said. “For the most part, you need to take care of yourself. If you do that, you’re going to have a chance.”

As he has done before, Schmidt talked about his team splitting its season into three parts: non-conference play, conference play and the conference tournament.

Now, in the third trimester of the season, the Bonnies hope to turn their A-10 regular-season championship into an NCAA tournament berth.

Richmond and Duquesne’s quarterfinal contest will tip-off at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Bona awaits the winner at the same start time on Friday in a game that will be played at VCU’s Siegel Center and broadcasted on NBC Sports Network.

“Everybody has to win two games this weekend to move on to next weekend, and it’s coaches talk, but we just try to take it one game at a time,” Schmidt said. “We try to emphasize, we’ve got to rebound, defend and take care of the basketball. If we do those three things, we’ll be in good shape.”