MBB: A-10 regular season champion Bonnies look to finish strong against Dayton

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Anthony Goss

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — After a weekend of celebration, the newly crowned Atlantic 10 regular season champions have their last test before postseason play begins.  

Thanks to a 65-57 win by Davidson over VCU, St. Bonaventure clinched its first outright conference title in school history without even playing a game.  

“For them to be the first team to win an outright Atlantic 10 title speaks volumes about the type of players and the type of team we have,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “I think we have a program that we’ve built, that has been sustained over time.” 

Schmidt and the Bonnies will look to cap an unprecedented season on a high note when they welcome the Dayton Flyers to the Reilly Center on Monday.  

Despite the triumphs of his team in the past week, Schmidt is adamant about finishing the right way. 

“We have more to do,” Schmidt said. “We’ve gotta keep on rolling.”  

The Flyers come into this matchup at 8-7 in the A-10 and 12-8 overall. Despite a recent loss to Saint Joseph’s, Dayton has shown it can handle the top teams in the league, evidenced by its 76-53 walloping of Saint Louis just over a week ago.

“They’re just a really good team,” Schmidt said. “You don’t beat Saint Louis by 23 by not having a good team.” 

Jalen Crutcher leads the way for the Flyers. One of the only returning pieces from last year’s historic nationally-ranked team, Crutcher is averaging 18.8 points per game and 4.9 assists per game, both of which lead the team.

“They’ve got one of the best players in the league in Crutcher,” Schmidt said. He’s the quarterback; as he goes, they go.” 

Given the excellent defense of the Bonnies against top guards recently, the matchup against Crutcher will be one to watch. SBU held Davidson guard Kellan Grady to two points on 1-of-7 shooting on Wednesday and A-10 leading scorer James Bishop of George Washington only mustered six points of 2-of-7 shooting on Friday.  

Another key piece for the Flyers is Ibi Watson, another returnee from last season. Watson averages 15.7 points per game and plays a much bigger role for Dayton than he did a season ago. 

“The kid Watson feeds off Crutcher and shoots the ball extremely well,” Schmidt said.  

Just like Bona, the Flyers are an excellent 3-point shooting team. They are second to St. Bonaventure in 3-point shooting percentage in the A-10, and they also boast the second-highest field goal percentage in the conference. 

If the Bonnies secure the win, they will finish the season undefeated at home. Schmidt noted the importance of earning a victory in the team’s last home game this season. 

“Being undefeated at home is gonna give us momentum going into the Atlantic 10 (tournament),” Schmidt said. “Forget about 8-0. We wanna be 1-0; that next game, we wanna have momentum.” 

St. Bonaventure has lost five straight games to Dayton, with its last win coming in February of 2016.  

The Flyers and the Bonnies tip off at 5 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPNU.  

“We accomplished one goal, and that was to win the Atlantic 10 regular season,” Schmidt said. “We’ve won something, but we wanna continue to win.” 

NEW: Bonnies route GW for largest-ever A-10 win

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The George Washington men’s basketball team came to the Reilly Center on Friday looking to pull off an upset over St. Bonaventure. SBU’s red-hot offense made it known early that an upset wasn’t going to happen.

Bona (13-3, 11-3 A-10) erupted for 88 points while shooting 58% from the field and 51% from 3-point range on its way to an 88-41 win over the Colonials (4-11, 3-5 A-10). It was the largest Atlantic 10 win in program history.

Bona junior guard Dominick Welch set the game tempo early by hitting four 3-point shots in the first half. That’s one less than the five triples that Welch hit in the first half at Davidson on Wednesday.

Welch was one of five Bonnies to reach double-digit scoring, as he scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half before sitting for the majority of the second half, as did nearly all of head coach Mark Schmidt’s starters.

“We came off two big wins and it could have been a let-down, we had one day to prepare, but our guys really really responded,” Schmidt said. “It was great to see, and I’m really proud of their effort.”

The Bonnies jumped out to a double-digit lead in the game’s first nine minutes and held it the rest of the way, leading 42-21 at halftime before out-scoring GW 46-20 in the second half.

Bona junior guard Jaren Holmes finished with 18 points, while sophomore guard AJ Vazquez scored 18 off the bench to match Holmes’ game-high total.

“This game was not an easy one at all,” Holmes said. “We just came out and played hard. We played with energy and we were excited to be out here.”

Junior guard Kyle Lofton racked up a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists, while junior forward Jalen Adaway scored 11 points.

“You play one possession at a time, and when you get up by 20 (points), the goal is by the next timeout, you want to be up by 30,” Schmidt said. “You’re up by 30, the goal for the next timeout is you want to be up by 40. That’s how you do it.”

The Bonnies set a new season-high by hitting 15 3-point field goals, which bested the 11 triples they hit in each of their last two games. SBU has now shot over 50% from distance in three-consecutive games.

“It’s always needed,” Schmidt said of his team’s 3-point shooting. “Our guys deserve to make those shots. They’re always in the gym. We were missing (the shots) early in the season, but it wasn’t because we weren’t in the gym working at it. You knew it was going to happen. We have good shooters.”

The Bonnies held the Colonials to 33% shooting from the field and 15% from distance. Jamison Battle led GW with 10 points, while James Bishop, the A-10’s leading scorer entering Friday, was held to six points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“That’s the staple,” Schmidt said of his defense. “That’s how you win. We’re not going to shoot 15-for-29 (from distance) every game. You win championships, you win at this level, by playing defense and rebounding. Our guys understand that.”

With the win, SBU remained undefeated at home and stepped one win closer to the regular-season Atlantic 10 championship title. With a win over Dayton on Monday, the Bonnies can clinch at least a share of the A-10 regular-season title, as well as the top seed in next week’s conference tournament.

“If you take care of your business, everything is fine,” Schmidt said. “We control our own destiny. Even though it’s the last game of the regular season, we prepare the same way for everybody.”

With one game left in its regular season, St. Bonaventure controls its own destiny. After Friday’s win, nearly the entire Bona team crowded around a baseline camera. Each player pointed one finger in the air, signifying the final victory that the team needs to clinch the A-10’s top spot.

“It just feels good to get another win and (be) one step closer to an A-10 regular-season championship,” Holmes said. “We’re on a mission right now. I think we’re completely locked in as a team, and as a family.”

COLUMN: Howard’s animated ejection embodies college basketball’s newfound intimate, relaxed setting

photo: La Salle University athletics

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — When referees ejected Ashley Howard from a nearly empty Reilly Center on Tuesday, the words he directed toward them could be heard throughout the arena.

The officiating crew issued Howard, head coach of the La Salle men’s basketball team, a double technical foul in the first half of the Explorers’ loss to St. Bonaventure at the Reilly Center. Visibly unhappy after a possession on his team’s offensive end, Howard proceeded to let referees know how he felt about their performance thus far.

With few watching from the stands, Howard stormed off the court in a profanity-filled tirade, much of which could be heard from press row in the arena’s upper seating sections. We heard it. The teams heard it. The ESPN+ television crew producing the game heard it.

Everyone in attendance heard what Howard had to say, even when he came back into the arena after previously exiting and shouted an expletive toward the officials.

However, in a non-COVID year, would Howard have behaved the same way in front of a near-capacity crowd? His words would not have been heard throughout the arena had there been 5,000-plus Bona fans reacting to his ejection.

My ability to hear Howard’s words exemplifies the unique setting in which college basketball is being played this year.

The atmosphere of college hoops games has been undoubtedly less formal than in years past, especially at the Reilly Center, where fan attendance has not been allowed this season.

Coaches and team personnel wear sweatpants and quarter-zip hoodies instead of suits. Players start chants in support of their teammates on the floor. The only non-artificial noise in the arena comes from the benches and the public address announcer.

It’s a much more intimate production than in years past, and more relaxed.

Howard didn’t face a raucous, drunken Bona student section on his way off the floor Tuesday. Instead, he was greeted by bleachers of cardboard cutouts that had no rebuttal for what he had to say.

After the game, Howard returned to the floor for a lengthy conversation with Bona head coach Mark Schmidt. The two shared smiles and a couple laughs, seemingly brushing off the events that unfolded just hours before.

In previous years, this exchange may not have taken place, either. At least not on the court less than 30 minutes after the game ended.

College basketball is being played under unprecedented circumstances at SBU and beyond. Howard’s ejection, and the subsequent reaction that it prompted, demonstrates this.

Superb second half leads Bona to comeback victory over VCU

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — VCU went into halftime with a 15-point lead. After that, the Rams never looked the same.

After being out-played by the Rams on both ends of the floor in the first half, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team used two big runs in the second half to beat VCU, 70-54, at the Reilly Center on Wednesday night.

Bona opened the second stanza on a 20-3 run that was capped with three-consecutive dunks, two of which were accompanied by a defensive foul. Jalen Adaway drove to the rim and dunked over a VCU defender while drawing a foul before Osun Osunniyi did the same. Osunniyi then got another dunk off of a lob pass, which seemingly gave Bona the entirety of the game’s momentum.

After the Rams battled back midway through the half, SBU ended the game on a 19-3 run that spanned over 11 minutes of game time.

“The game was, ‘Who’s going to own the paint?’ In the first half, they owned the paint,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “They kept the ball downhill, they were killing us on the back board, we didn’t do a good job against their press… As a coach, you just challenge the guys, and if you have character guys, guys that are competitors, they’re going to respond.”

Jaren Holmes scored 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Bona, which improved its play on the glass late in the game after being out-rebounded 28-15 by the Rams in the first half. Bona out-rebounded the Rams 22-14 in the second half, however, and only allowed four offensive rebounds in the second frame after giving up 13 of them in the first.

“The most important minutes (of the second half) were the first five minutes,” Schmidt said. “The first 10 possessions. We couldn’t have played better offensively or defensively in the second half. To hold that team to 14 points and the percentage that they shot, it’s a credit to our guys.”

The Bonnies held the Rams to 14 points on 19% shooting from the field in the second half, while shooting nearly 56% from the field and 50% from three-point range themselves. Bona ended up shooting 42% from the field in the game, while VCU shot just 32%.

“Since I’ve been here as a coach, in my opinion, that’s the best half we’ve played both offensively and defensively,” Schmidt said. “We took care of the ball and ran some stuff that was effective, but in essence it came down to, we started going downhill and we stopped them from going downhill.”

Dominick Welch, who had been held to zero points in SBU’s last game (a win over Duquesne), scored a game-high 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field, including 5-for-6 from three-point range. Kyle Lofton scored 12 points for the Bonnies, while Jalen Adaway scored nine points and Osun Osunniyi scored nine points to go with nine rebounds.

“I felt that we weren’t playing aggressively enough in the first half, but we always emphasize defense in practice, and I think that defense and rebounding played a big role in letting our offense (come back),” Welch said. “We really wanted to stick to getting stops and cutting that lead down before the first media (timeout).”

Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, who scored a team-high 16 points for the Rams, was held to 1-of-7 shooting for three points in the second half. Vince Williams Jr. scored 11 points for the Rams, while Levi Stockard III and Hason Ward each added eight points.

This was just VCU’s second lost in Atlantic 10 play, as the Rams fell to 3-2 in the league and 10-4 overall.

“We have competitive guys, and I think they were a little embarrassed by how they played in the first half,” Schmidt said. “And they responded. The first tv timeout was critical for us to get some momentum, and we did that.”

This marked Bona’s fifth-straight A-10 win, as the Bonnies improved to 5-1 in the league and 7-1 overall. SBU’s schedule continues to shuffle, as an upcoming Saturday-night road trip to Saint Louis was canceled and replaced by a trip to La Roche University, where the Bonnies will play Duquesne for the second time in eight days.

SBU won its first matchup over the Dukes, 62-48, last Friday at the RC. Bona’s win over VCU gives it sole possession of first place in the A-10, breaking a tie with UMass, which also went into Wednesday night at 4-1 in conference play.

“This is a very good team that we played tonight, and it just shows the will that we have as a team and the chemistry that we’re building together,” Welch said. “It feels like these wins are really different. A step in the right direction.”

Buffalo game wiped out by positive test; Bonnies finish shortest non-conference schedule ever

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — It was bound to happen once. Twice was a coincidence. But after another cancelation, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team is facing a non-conference schedule of only two games.

The Bonnies were scheduled to play Buffalo at the Reilly Center on Tuesday, in what would have been their final non-conference game of the 2020-21 season. SBU had previously beaten Akron and Hofstra to earn its first 2-0 start to a season in seven years. After six game cancelations over the past four weeks, however, the program is also looking at the shortest non-conference schedule in its history.

About 30 hours before scheduled tip-off against Buffalo, the Bulls announced that a member of their “Tier 1” personnel, which includes student-athletes, coaches, team managers and support staff, had tested positive for COVID-19. The program was notified of the test result, which came from its regular surveillance testing in accordance with NCAA guidelines, on Sunday.

This comes just nine days after the Bonnies’ scheduled home opener against St. Francis (PA) was canceled due to a positive test within the Red Flash’s program.

Bona was able to christen the RC for the building’s 54th season against Hofstra, which now could end up being the only non-conference game played there this season. SBU was also scheduled to make a trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena bubble in late November, which was canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test within Bona’s program.

Unless SBU adds an opponent to its schedule over the next week, the Bonnies’ next competition will be an Atlantic 10 game. Bona is scheduled to play at Rhode Island on Dec. 30 and at Richmond on Jan. 2, before hosting Saint Joseph’s on Jan. 6 in what will presumably be the team’s A-10 home opener.

If this is indeed how Bona’s non-conference schedule will end, it will be the first time the Bonnies will have gone undefeated in non-conference play. This was the first time since 2013-14 that the team started a season 2-0.

Bona survives Hofstra comeback, wins home opener

photo by Craig Melvin

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — For a moment, it looked like another run-away victory. Then, it wasn’t.

The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team defeated Hofstra for the second year in a row on Saturday, in a game that turned out to be much closer than the contest’s start would have indicated.

When the Bonnies jumped out to a 30-7 lead early in the first half, flashbacks of SBU’s 28-point victory over the Pride last December transpired. The Bonnies carried a 15-point lead into halftime, but Jalen Ray got hot for Hofstra from the three-point line in the second half and led the Pride back.

After a frenzy of lead exchanges in the game’s final 10 minutes, the Bonnies went on a 13-3 run to close the game and beat Hofstra, 77-69.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “You knew they were going to come back, but I didn’t think they were going to come back in the second half and outscore us by 27 at one point.”

Trailing by 13 points with 15 minutes left in the second half, Hofstra went on a 29-14 run that spanned 11 minutes and gave the Pride a 66-65 lead. From there, Schmidt’s group responded.

With the game tied at 66 points each, Dominick Welch hit a three-pointer that was followed by a 12-foot floater by Kyle Lofton and two Osun Osunniyi dunks.

“When they took the lead, I thought our guys collected themselves, didn’t hang their heads and fought back,” Schmidt said. “But we beat a good team. Our goal was to be 2-0, and 1-0 at home, and we accomplished that.”

Lofton scored a team-high 16 points, and also dished out nine assists and pulled down four rebounds. Welch scored 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds while shooting 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.

“We got comfortable with the lead,” Lofton said. “When we got to the end, we knew it was go time. We couldn’t play laid back. We had to be aggressive. We knew that we had to get stops and rebounds, and finish out possessions.”

Osunniyi had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. He briefly came out of the game two minutes into the second half after picking up his second personal foul.

Osunniyi was replaced by Jalen Shaw, who scored four points in nine minutes of action. In the eight minutes that Osunniyi was on the bench, the Bona lead shrunk from 13 points to three.

“I got into foul trouble, so me not being in the game, I just tried to bring energy from the bench,” Osunniyi said. “It all comes down to the veteran leadership and the more experienced guys telling everybody to stay calm, run our offense and play defense.”

Ray, who scored a game-high 28 points, was instrumental in Hofstra’s second-half comeback. He shot 6-for-10 from beyond the arc, including 5-for-7 in the second half, when 19 of his points were scored. Isaac Kante finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Pride, while former Bona guard Tareq Coburn scored nine points.

Schmidt mentioned several positives that he took away from his team’s performance, including out-rebounding Hofstra by 15 and having a team total of 19 assists compared to 11 turnovers.

“We’ve got to get better,” Schmidt said. “We can’t give up 20-point leads. There are a lot of challenges going on, but I’m proud of our mental toughness.”

Lofton, Welch and Osunniyi each reaching double-digit scoring figures was also encouraging, Schmidt said.

“We need them,” he said. “They’re juniors now; they’re the main guys. Those three guys, along with Jaren (Holmes), need to score the ball.”

Holmes finished with nine points and eight rebounds, while Jalen Adaway had nine points and five rebounds. Eight different Bonnies got on the score sheet.

This is the first time that SBU has started 2-0 in a season since 2013-14, and the first time that Bona has won its home opener since 2016-17. Bona will host “Big 4” rival Buffalo on Tuesday to wrap up the Bonnies’ non-conference schedule.

“I think everybody is slowly starting to find their way on this team,” Osunniyi said. “The new guys are trying to find their way and see where they fit in. That’s good for us.”

Bona home opener canceled less than two hours before tip-off

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — After a 283-day hiatus, it appeared as though the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team would return to the Reilly Center to play its 2020-21 season opener.

The Bonnies were scheduled to play St. Francis (PA) at 2 p.m. on Saturday, until less than two hours before tip-off, the game was canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test.

According to a statement released by the SBU athletic department, a positive test from within St. Francis’ Tier 1 personnel traveling party caused the cancellation of the game. This comes nine days after the Bonnies were able to resume team activities following a 14-day down period because of a positive COVID-19 test within their own program.

As of now, Bona will have to wait until Tuesday to begin its regular season, and wait until Dec. 19 to hold its home opener. SBU is scheduled to play Akron at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland on Tuesday before hosting Hofstra five days later.

With the elimination of the St. Francis game, which will not be rescheduled, the Bonnies only have three non-conference games on their schedule, as they will play Buffalo next week to finish non-conference play.

Reilly Center to feature dozens of cardboard “fans” this season

photo: Seth Johnson/Twitter

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — While there will be no in-person attendance at St. Bonaventure men’s and women’s basketball games this season, nearly 200 Bonnies fans will be represented at the Reilly Center in the form of cardboard cutouts.

In November, the university announced that it would be offering cutouts for $100. Fans can select a custom image, of them or anyone else, to be printed and placed in the RC at every home basketball game throughout the 2020-21 season.

So far, 186 cutouts have been ordered, and Seth Johnson, SBU’s assistant athletic director for licensing and fan engagement, said that he anticipates that number to continue to climb.

“We knew that there would be interest,” Johnson said. “We have a passionate fan base. That’s what makes St. Bonaventure so special, is our alumni and fans that support us. Once we knew that we were not going to be able to have fans, it kind of picked up steam that we knew we would have placement for these.”

The cutouts will be placed in the “end zone” bleachers behind each basket. The school has already placed 120 cutouts, and a shipment of over 60 more is on its way.

“The end zone makes sense because it’s really one of the only areas that gets prominent television time, during free throws,” Johnson said.

If the end zones sell out, the university will look at other areas that could have prominent television time. However, Johnson said, there is still “plenty of space” left behind the baskets.

Fans can order cutouts throughout the year through printedfans.com, and can expect to see them up at the RC within 14 days after ordering.

“We had been looking into it with a couple different companies, it just took finding the right one,” Johnson said. “Everyone is a little bit different, and we just needed to find what worked best for us and the timeline that we needed.”

In addition to the dozens of Bonnies fans that have themselves depicted in the arena, some have gotten creative with their orders. Former Bonnies guard Marcus Posley is in the crowd, as is “Kramer” from the hit sitcom Seinfeld, “Gritty,” the Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot, as well as dogs, babies and a cat. SBU president Dr. Dennis DePerro recently ordered his cutout.

“It’s a way to be a part of the Reilly Center,” Johnson said. “I think that once we have our first game and people see them, there will be even more interest.”

Johnson said that next week, the athletic department would be releasing additional ways to get fans involved with the game-day experience at the RC.

“The fans, and especially our students, are what make it special,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be lacking that this year. We’re doing our best to keep people as involved as possible, and creat as many interactive things as possible.”