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

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Anthony Goss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLUMN: Bona’s recent impediment of opposing stars key to defensive success

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — St. Bonaventure knew it needed a plan to slow down Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland.

The players knew that stopping Hyland, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, would be essential in defending VCU. They weren’t worried, however, about figuring out how they’d do it.

That task, as junior forward/center Osun Osunniyi said before the game, would be head coach Mark Schmidt’s responsibility. And, while Osunniyi and junior guard Jaren Holmes didn’t yet know on Wednesday what Schmidt’s plan for stopping Hyland would be, they knew he’d have the Bonnies ready.

“Schmidt, he’s a basketball genius,” Osunniyi said four days before Sunday’s final. “He’s going to look at film and find ways to see where (Hyland) has struggled and try to use that to our advantage.”

Holmes, despite calling Hyland a “tremendous shooter with unlimited range,” agreed with Osunniyi.

“Like (Osunniyi) said, we’ll let Schmidt deal with that,” Holmes said. “We’re just going to go out there and play. Schmidt’s going to have us ready and they’re going to have a game plan.”

Then came the final, played at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

When the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms at halftime, the Bonnies led by seven points. Hyland had zero. And he was 0-of-3 from the field.

Hyland picked up three fouls in the game’s first seven minutes. Two were offensive; one defensive. The sophomore guard subsequently sat for the rest of the half.

Hyland’s first point of the game came just under over two minutes into the second half, when he got to the line and hit a pair of free throws. His first field goal didn’t come for another seven minutes, as a layup with 9:11 left in the game broke his scoreless streak from the field.

Bona eventually won the game, 74-65, and led by double digits before Hyland got going offensively. Hyland finished with a game-high 21 points but only made four field goals, shot 4-of-11 from the field and scored 11 of his points from the free-throw line.

Schmidt and the Bonnies, the A-10’s best defensive team, slowed down Hyland when it mattered. They frustrated VCU’s top scorer. While impressive, the circumstance wasn’t isolated.

SBU held Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis’ leading scorer and a first-team all-league selection, to 11 points in its A-10 semifinal win over the Billikens. Nine of those points came in the second half, when Bona maintained a double-digit lead.

In the A-10 quarterfinals, SBU held Duquesne’s Marcus Weathers, the Dukes’ leading scorer and a second-team all-league selection, to six points.

In their final two regular season games, the Bonnies held two more first-team A-10 players, Davidson’s Kellan Grady and Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher, to two and six points, respectively.

Notice a trend?

In the last month, SBU has repeatedly limited the offensive output of opposing stars. That’s helped the team to a league-best 60.4 points allowed per game.

The only members of the A-10’s six-man first team that the Bonnies haven’t held to single-digit scoring this season are Hyland and Tre Mitchell, the UMass forward which the Bonnies did not play against this season.

The numbers are one thing. The players’ trust in Schmidt’s ability to game plan, however, is another.

Schmidt has said multiple times that he’s felt the teams that have had the most success throughout college basketball’s COVID-ridden season are those that stick together and rally around adversity. When a roster wants to play for a coach, as trusts a coach, as much as the Bonnies do Schmidt, those challenges become easier.

After winning the A-10 regular-season title and tournament on its way to a 16-4 record, ninth-seeded Bona finds itself pitted against No. 8 LSU (18-9) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.

If Schmidt plans to defend LSU by limiting its best player, he’ll have his hands full in doing so. Cameron Thomas, a freshman guard that will have his sights set on the NBA Draft in the near future, leads the Tigers’ offense with 22.6 points per game.

Checking in just behind Thomas are Trendon Watford (16.7 points per game) and Ja’Vonte Smart (15.9 ppg).

While we’ll learn of Schmidt’s defensive strategy against LSU on Saturday, his team’s success in limiting opposing stars this season has been undeniable down the stretch.

The nation’s eighth-best scoring offense, led by a top-20 NBA prospect, will be Schmidt’s biggest defensive challenge to date.

COLUMN: Bona, VCU’s spots in NCAA field secured before A-10 title game

photo by Megan Lee/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

DAYTON, OH — Win, and you’re in.

That’s the premise of the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament each year.

Regardless of its regular-season performance beforehand, a conference tournament championship secures a team’s spot in the NCAA tournament field. While that remains true for this year’s A-10 championship game, the stakes of the game are different than in recent years.

Both finalists have done enough to deserve a spot in the 68-team NCAA bracket. For No. 1 St. Bonaventure and No. 2 VCU, Sunday’s title game at University of Dayton Arena likely won’t determine whether each side gets to play in the NCAA tournament.

Instead, this year’s final will be for bragging rights, for NCAA seeding, and, for SBU, the chance to make history as the second team in program history to be crowned A-10 champions.

When the Bonnies arrived in Richmond last week for their first two A-10 tournament games, their postseason prospectus looked different than it did after SBU posted back-to-back convincing wins over No. 9 Duquesne and No. 4 Saint Louis in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Now, as the A-10 regular-season champion that has advanced to the conference’s championship game, it would take an 1800s-style Wild West robbery by the NCAA selection committee to leave the Bonnies out of the tournament.

As of Monday, the NCAA’s “NET” ranking, the largely mysterious, overarching ranking that the committee prioritizes, ranks Bona 27th in the country, and VCU 35th. Ken Pomeroy, famous for his “KenPom” rankings, also has the Bonnies at 27th, while VCU checks in at 43rd.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, one of the nation’s most popular “bracketologists,” predicts the Bonnies to be a ninth-seed in the tournament, while listing the Rams as a No. 11 seed. Lunardi said on Sunday that he anticipates Bona will be in the NCAA field whether it wins the A-10 title game or not.

So, looking at the situation realistically, both A-10 finalists will be playing in the NCAA tournament whether they’re crowned league champions or not. This differs from SBU’s last trip to the A-10 final, when it needed to win the 2019 game to be included in the NCAA bracket.

The Bonnies lost that game, ending their season at the Barclays Center as abruptly as they had gotten there. The year before, Davidson upset SBU in the A-10 semifinals before upsetting top-seeded Rhode Island a day later to win the tournament. If the Wildcats had not done so, they would have been left out.

This is the first time since 2013 that the tournament’s top two seeds will play in its final. Bona’s only A-10 championship came the year before that, when the Andrew Nicholson-led Bonnies beat Xavier in the final to clinch an NCAA tournament spot that they wouldn’t have received without winning the tournament.

This year, that’s not the case. SBU has built a sufficient tournament resume over the last three months, compiling a 15-4 record while finishing 11-4 in the A-10 during the regular season. VCU’s situation is similar, as the Rams are 19-6 overall with a 10-4 A-10 record.

This year, it’s about pride and the chance to become a champion. For three Bona starters, it’s the chance to avenge 2019’s A-10 final loss.

The 2021 A-10 champion will receive the immediate satisfaction of knowing that it has reserved the league’s coveted automatic NCAA bid. The runner-up, barring an inexplicable snub, will hear its name called just hours later during the NCAA selection show.

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. 

Nicholson on first team, SBU predicted to finish fourth

[Andrew Nicholson gets interviewed by ESPN’s Andy Katz at the Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day Thursday at the Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge – Photo courtesy of GoBonnies.com]

By Ryan Lazo, feature columnist, @RMLazo13

NEW YORK (Oct. 13) — St. Bonaventure’s men’s basketball team was picked to finish fourth in preseason polls today at the Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day.

Xavier with 304 total points and 18 first-place votes got picked to finish first. Temple (287 points, four first-place votes), Saint Louis (239), St. Bonaventure (217) and defending champion Richmond (196) rounded out the top five. 

“It’s nice to have the recognition for our program and the hard work we have put in, but it doesn’t matter,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “We didn’t believe what they had to say last year when they picked us to finish 13th, and we’re not buying into the hype.”

St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson and Xavier’s Tu Holloway, the defending A-10 Player of the Year, were both named to the Preseason First-Team All-Conference team.

Both players were also selected last week as preseason candidates for the prestigious John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List. Temple seniors Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez and George Washington’s Tony Taylor rounded out the first-team selctions.

Chris Mack, Xavier’s coach, said that Schmidt, a former Xavier assistant coach, has done an incredible job recruiting in a small town like Olean, N.Y. and the fans should be proud of that.

Also, Mack added Nicholson might be the most skilled player in the country.

“He is a constant mismatch for any team,” he said. “Place a big man on him and he’ll go around him or he’ll just take you outside.”

Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, on the other hand, had a different approach.

“Best way to stop him is say your prayers the night before,” Kellogg said of Nicholson. 

Though various high praises were said about Nicholson, Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus might have given the highest compliment to St. Bonaventure’s senior forward.

“When I saw 44, I used to think of Henry Aaron,” he said. “Now, I think of Nicholson.”

Tony Lee contributed to this story.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

NOTES:

  • Nicholson, Holloway, Duquesne’s T.J. McConnell, Richmond’s Darrius Garret and Saint Joseph’s’ C.J. Aiken were named to the all-defensive team. 
  • Practice begins Saturday at midnight. Duquesne tips off the 2011-12 season on Nov. 9 with a game at Arizona in the Coaches vs. Cancer 2K Sports Classic. 
  • The Bonnies play their first A-10 game on Jan. 4 vs. George Washington at 7 p.m.

Here is the list of the 2011-12 A-10 men’s basketball predicted order of finish:

  1. Xavier (18) 304 
  2. Temple (4) 287 
  3. Saint Louis 239 
  4. St. Bonaventure 217 
  5. Richmond 196 
  6. Dayton 168 
  7. St. Joseph’s 165 
  8. George Washington 163 
  9. Duquesne 151 
  10. Rhode Island 117 
  11. Charlotte 115 
  12. Massachusetts 107 
  13. La Salle 52 
  14. Fordham 29