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.

A-10 TOURNAMENT: favorites, sleepers and players to watch

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Peter Byrne

RICHMOND, VA — Although it hasn’t always been easy, the college basketball regular season has concluded and there will be an Atlantic 10 tournament for the first time since 2019. There will be notable changes between this year’s tournament and the one from just two years before.

Instead of the entire tournament being held in Brooklyn, New York, the majority of the 2021 A-10 tournament will be held in Richmond, Virginia. VCU and Richmond will both play host until the tournament championship, which will be played in Dayton, Ohio. 

Furthermore, the tournament championship will be played eight days after the semifinals conclude. The tournament will go from March 3-6, with the title game on March 14. Despite some changes, the format is the same, and each team will be fighting for an automatic bid and a ticket to the NCAA tournament.  

THE FAVORITE(S): 

The favorites heading into the tournament will be the top two teams in St. Bonaventure and VCU.

The teams finished a half game apart in the standings and split their regular-season meetings, each team winning on their home floor. Both the Bonnies and Rams lost their final regular season matchups, so expect both teams to come out for revenge in Richmond. It would come to nobody’s surprise if these teams were playing for Atlantic 10 championship in Dayton. 

THE SLEEPER: 

Saint Louis was a preseason favorite heading into the season and has failed to exceed expectations. However, a lengthy COVID pause that had them out for over a month is worth noting. Now seeded fourth, the Bilikens are coming off two straight victories and look to be hitting their stride at just the right time.

Saint Louis also seems to have SBU’s number recently, as they’ve won three straight against Schmidt and co. Although they have not been consistent enough throughout the season to be labeled a favorite, they seem to peaking at the right time.

3 PLAYERS TO WATCH: 

Kyle Lofton (SBU): Lofton averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 per game assists in the regular season, leading the Bonnies to their first outright regular season title in school history. Although he is only shooting 23% from behind the arc, he is shooting 44% from three in his last six games. As the Bonnies point guard and leader, expect him to have the ball in his hands in crunch time throughout the tournament.

NAH’SHON “BONES” HYLAND (VCU): Sophomore guard Nah’shon “Bones” Hyland is arguably the conference’s most improved player this season, upping his points per game from 9.0 to 19.2 in just one season. This improvement is the main reason why VCU has exceeded its preseason expectations and should be heading to the NCAA Tournament. The 6’3 guard will look to prove why he should be the conference’s player of the year in Richmond 

Jordan Goodwin: Bilikens senior Jordan Goodwin is a do-it-all type player for his team. He averages 14.5 points a game, leads the team in rebounding as a guard with 10.3 boards per game, and dishes out nearly 4 assists a game. He also leads the team in steals. In what should be his final Atlantic 10 tournament appearance, Goodwin will look to lead his Bilikens to a second straight tournament title. 

Bona falls at sharpshooting Saint Louis

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+. 

PREVIEW: Bonnies look to stay hot, seek redemption at Saint Louis

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Nic Gelyon

ST. LOUIS, MO — This is a big weekend for the Bonnies.  

They have a chance to put a strangle-hold on the Atlantic 10. To make people notice them. 

A win against Saint Louis (7-3) would not only see the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team beat a former Associated Press Top 25 team and extend its winning streak to eight games. It would see the Bonnies continue a streak of A-10 dominance that has been unmatched this season. 

Just consider this: seven of SBU’s first 10 opponents currently have a record over .500. Bona went 7-0 against those opponents. 

And the Bonnies are blowing out virtually everyone. Since their loss to Rhode Island, they are winning by an average 13.4 points. And, against all opponents that are currently over .500, the Bonnies have won by an average of 9.9 points. 

They now face what could be their toughest opponent yet in Saint Louis. 

But what makes this Billikens team difficult to analyze is that they’ve played, in essence, two different seasons. Their first, which lasted until Dec. 23, saw them go 7-1 in all non-conference games. But they wouldn’t play again for over a month, as a COVID-19 outbreak within the program halted all team activities. 

Just last Tuesday, a game-starved Saint Louis returned. They lost a close game to Dayton, 76-61. They then lost at La Salle, 82-75, on Wednesday.

To say Saint Louis’ last two games are representative of what it was before the team’s outbreak would be unfair. Let me remind you what the Billikens have the potential to be at full-strength. 

They averaged 84 points in non-conference play, and held opponents to 65. They shot over 50% from the field and were the 13th-best three-point shooting team in the nation.  

They had a plus-11 rebound advantage, and nearly ten more assists per game than their opponents. They won a close game against LSU, dominated North Carolina State, and played a relatively even game against Minnesota before losing by eight points.

This is what Saint Louis was.   

But this week, the Billikens haven’t had much time to rest. It seems that what Saint Louis has lost in momentum, St. Bonaventure has gained in steam.  

The Bonnies lived up to their potential against George Mason on Saturday. Shooting 61% from the field, the Bonnies put 84 points on the Patriots, the most points they’d allowed in a non-overtime game this season. 

 84 is also the highest number of points that the Bonnies have scored this season.  

Junior guard Dominick Welch led the way in that game, shooting 4-for-6 from three, with four rebounds, four assists and 22 points. He played all 40 minutes against the Patriots. 

What does this mean for Saturday’s game against the Billikens? 

Saint Louis’ biggest weakness is currently its defense. Against Dayton and La Salle, the Billikens have allowed 12 and eight three-point makes, respectively. The three-ball has accounted for nearly 40% of the points they allowed in those two games.

The Bonnies have the shooters to exploit this weakness. Junior guard Kyle Lofton knows having himself, Welch, Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway makes life easier for the Bonnies. All are averaging over 10 points a game this season. 

“Having guys that can do that… it takes pressure off me,” Lofton said. “It’s hard to focus on one or two guys because we have so much talent on this team where guys can just go off every given night.” 

And for what the Bonnies bring to the table in skill, they have the motivation to match—especially in this game. This will be the first time the Bonnies have played Saint Louis since last March, a one-sided, 72-49 loss, just before the COVID-19 pandemic halted college basketball. 

“Seeing how freshman year we lost, and how last year we lost, like it wasn’t even a game, we talk about all that stuff,” Lofton said. “Everyday we look at it, like all right, this is it, it’s not going to happen anymore.” 

Welch knows that beating this team will require a strong presence on the glass—they can’t let senior Hasahn French notch 18 rebounds this time around, as he did a year ago against SBU. It’s a good thing the Bonnies are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, averaging 39.4 a game. 

Bona will also need to be weary of Jordan Goodwin, SLU’s preseason first-team all-league senior guard who is averaging 15.8 points per game this year.

“This year, we’re a much smaller team,” Welch said. “We just need to be the more physical team, really get them off the glass. We need to win the battle of the boards, match their physicality, and just make shots.” 

As bonus motivation for Bona, the team received 19 votes in last week’s AP poll, the 32nd-most in the country. A win likely inches the Bonnies closer to the Top 25. It may even put them in the Top 25.  

The Bonnies have set out to prove themselves. Many will argue that they already have. Some, of course, will say otherwise. But it will be hard to argue with a 10-1 record, an undefeated non-conference schedule, and an 8-1 record in the A-10 if they beat Saint Louis on Saturday.