MBB: Recapping VCU’s, Bona’s path to A-10 final

photo courtesy of Atlantic 10 conference

By Jeff Uveino & Ben Malakoff

RICHMOND, VA — For the first time since 2013, the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball championship game will feature the tournament’s top two seeds.

The finalists aren’t unfamiliar with each other, either, as No. 1 St. Bonaventure and No. 2 VCU split a pair of regular-season matchups. In each game, the home team came away victorious.

Now, the rubber match will decide which side receives the A-10’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

For VCU, a win would improve upon its 1-4 record in A-10 championship games since joining the league after the 2011-12 season.

After going 10-4 in the conference schedule and almost a week off, No. 2 VCU faced Dayton at the Siegel Center, the team’s home court. Prior to the quarterfinal matchup, sophomore guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland was cleared from his foot injury and put back into the starting lineup after missing two games.

The A-10 player of the year posted 30 points and 10 rebounds. The Rams scored 38 points in the paint compared to Dayton’s 22 and never trailed throughout the game, winning 73-68.

In the semifinals, VCU faced No. 3 Davidson, the team the Rams fell to in the last game of the season. On average, both teams allowed opponents to score less than 65 points per game in the regular season.

In the first half, the strong defense continued from both sides. VCU shot 31% to Davidsons 17%.

In the second half, the Rams found their stride when redshirt-senior forward Corey Douglas scored six-straight points. Freshman guard Jamir Watkins added on 10 points including two crucial threes, helping VCU shoot 65% in the half.

Hyland led VCU with 12 points as the Rams beat the Wildcats, 64-52, and reached the championship game for the first time since 2017.

“I’m just really proud of our guys,” VCU head coach Mike Rhoades said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team’s approach, development and how they move forward throughout the year in all this craziness and it’s been fun coaching them. I just think we kept improving and we’ve been about the right stuff.”

St. Bonaventure’s path to its second A-10 title game in three years went through two familiar opponents, as the Bonnies bested No. 9 Duquesne in the quarterfinals before bullying No. 4 Saint Louis in the semis.

Bona had beat Duquesne twice already during the regular season before its 75-59 victory at VCU’s Siegel Center. The Bonnies are now 8-1 against the Dukes since the 2017-18 season.

A day later, Bona snapped a three-game losing streak to SLU by blowing out the Billikens, 71-53.

Osun Osunniyi anchored Bona’s defense, which allows an A-10 best 60.2 points per game, with seven blocks against Saint Louis. The junior forward/center was named A-10 defensive player of the year on Wednesday.

The Bonnies and Rams will tip-off at 1 p.m. on Sunday and the game will be broadcasted nationally on CBS.

“We’ve accomplished one goal, but that second goal is still out there,” Schmidt said. “Our approach is to be the best we can be from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday. “

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: 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.”