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

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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.”

Bona falls at sharpshooting Saint Louis

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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+. 

Men’s basketball: Bonnies aren’t overlooking embattled Billikens

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By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt predicted a close game ahead of Tuesday night’s game at Saint Louis.

“It’s gonna come down to the last three or four minutes,” Schmidt said.

Fans may scoff at the 10th-year coach’s prognostication, given the Billikens’ 1-4 Atlantic 10 record and the Bonnies being listed as 9.5-point favorites at press time. However, you don’t even have to look back a full calendar year to understand why SBU isn’t taking SLU lightly.

Bonaventure was a 13.5-point favorite when the schools met in the Reilly Center last Super Bowl Sunday, and the teams had reverse conference records (Bona 6-3, Saint Louis 3-6). But the Bonnies came out flat, trailing for about 34 of the 40 minutes and shooting just 39 percent for the game. A Jaylen Adams three-pointer at the buzzer gave them a 65-62 victory and avoided a bad home loss.

Bona won handily in the second half of the home-and-home, 76-67, but SLU proved it wasn’t a cakewalk if its opposition played poorly. Four of the five Billiken starters from those contests return, Ash Yacoubou being the lone exception.

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