Ask an opposing beat writer: St. Bonaventure at VCU

photo courtesy of Alessandro Latour/The Commonwealth Times

By Jeff Uveino

After four-straight wins to begin Atlantic 10 play, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team travels to VCU on Saturday to play a Rams team that is 2-2 in the A-10 following losses at Rhode Island and Dayton.

Ahead of Bona’s biggest test in league play so far, Noah Fleischman took the time to answer some questions that will allow Bonnies fans to become more familiar with VCU.

Fleischman, a sophomore at VCU, is the sports editor of The Commonwealth Times, for whom he covers the Rams.

The Bonnies and Rams will tip off at the Seigel Center at 2 p.m.

1) VCU scheduled plenty of quality opponents in non-conference play, including then-ranked LSU and Tennessee, Purdue and more. Would you say that the consensus at VCU is that the 10-3 non-conference finish was a success or a failure?

The non-conference finish was pretty successful, despite dropping those three games. The Rams lost both of their games at the Emerald Coast Classic by a total of six points against Tennessee and Purdue.

LSU was the Rams’ “resume” building win early in the season when the Tigers visited the Siegel Center. The atmosphere alone in the arena was similar to that of an NCAA tournament game and VCU played like it.

The only disappointment of the non-conference slate was the Wichita State 73-63 loss. VCU trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half on the road. Last season, the Rams handled Wichita State at the Siegel Center 70-54.

Other than the loss to Wichita State, the non-conference slate wasn’t a failure because of the ranked win against LSU.

2) Last year at the Atlantic 10 tournament, it was obvious that Marcus Santos-Silva was a rising star. This year, despite his statistics only slightly improving from last season, he leads VCU in scoring and rebounding. How much has he improved this year?

Marcus Santos-Silva has been more consistent this season for VCU than he was last season. He’s posted six double-double performances so far this season, something he did twice through the team’s first 16 games. Everytime the ball hits off the rim, Santos-Silva is the first to put a hand on the ball for VCU.

Not only does he rebound the ball at a high level, but he’s the centerpiece of the VCU offense. The Rams run an inside/outside approach, working the ball into the paint before looking for the open three-pointer. VCU is 4-2 this season when he records a double-double, the losses being Tennessee and Rhode Island. Santos-Silva is also shooting 60% from the field, second-best in the A-10 behind Dayton’s Obi Toppin.

Santos-Silva worked on his ball handling and footwork over the summer, allowing him to be more mobile than in past years. One thing I like about Santos-Silva is that he’s unselfish. Even though he’s leading the team in points and rebounds, he doesn’t care about the numbers unless it’s a win.

I wrote this story earlier this season on Santos-Silva and having fun while playing.

3) Other than Santos-Silva and Marcus Evans, which VCU players should St. Bonaventure fans expect to make an impact on Saturday against the Bonnies?

De’Riante Jenkins. He’s averaging 11.1 points a game for VCU and is shooting 40% from the field. The senior hasn’t been shooting the ball too well from three this season, but has been slashing in the paint. Coach Mike Rhoades wants his guards to slash towards the basket and Jenkins is effective at it. He also logged his 1,000th career point at Wichita State this season.

A younger player that St. Bonaventure fans should keep their eye on is Nah’Shon ‘Bones’ Hyland. Hyland, a four-star recruit, replaced P.J. Byrd as the backup point guard behind Marcus Evans this season. He is a confident shooter and isn’t afraid to shoot threes. Rhoades has also used Hyland and Evans on the floor together at times this season, moving Evans to the two guard and Hyland at point. With that lineup on the floor, VCU has two high level ball handlers on the floor, taking the pressure off Evans.

4) Before the season, VCU was regarded by many as a top-two team in the Atlantic 10. Do you think that’s still true? What surprises (on the Rams or other teams) have happened this season that impact your answer?

I think VCU is still a top-two team in the A-10. Yes, they lost to Rhode Island, but that’s nothing new for the Rams. They are 1-7 against Rhode Island in their last eight meetings. If you look at the loss at Dayton, one run defined the game. The Flyers used a 22-0 second-half run to build a 22 point lead. The Rams were able to pull within nine at one point, but couldn’t pull ahead.

The surprise of the season is how poorly the Rams have shot three-pointers. In the loss to Dayton, the Rams shot 3-for-20 from beyond the arc. On the season, VCU is shooting 33% from three, which is seventh in the A-10. If the Rams can shoot more consistently from deep, they’ll be one of the more dangerous teams in the A-10. They have the pieces to do it, it’s just a matter of time before the shots start to fall.

In the A-10, I’m surprised that VCU is the only team that has beat a ranked team. That might change if someone other than VCU can beat Dayton this season. Even Dayton hasn’t beaten a ranked team this season. That shouldn’t hurt the A-10’s chances for a multi-bid league if Dayton wins the A-10 tournament unless VCU doesn’t play well in A-10 play.

Bonnies beat Niagara for sixth-straight win

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The snowstorm that blew through the Southern Tier may have slowed down Wednesday evening commutes.

But it certainly didn’t slow down the offense of the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, which shot 50 percent from the field on its way to an 87-70 in over Niagara at the Reilly Center.

SBU did not trail in the game, and led by double-digits for most of the way before surviving a Niagara comeback late in the second half.

The Purple Eagles pulled within six points with just over five minutes to go, but Bona re-gained momentum and went on a 19-8 run to end the game.

Six Bonnies scored in double-digits, including 17 points from Dominick Welch.

Welch shot 5-for-9 from three-point range, and also pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists.

“The more guys we have scoring the basketball, the more difficult it is for the opponent to guard us,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “That’s common sense. When you have six guys who can score, it makes your offense that much more effective.”

Kyle Lofton compiled a double-double, as he had 11 assists to go with 12 points.

“We need him to be a scoring point guard, and that’s what he’s doing,” Schmidt said. “I think he shot the ball much better today, and he’s always been able to pass the ball and be the floor general. We need him to do both.”

It was Lofton’s third game in a row in which he handed out 11 assists, as he previously did it against Hofstra and Gannon.

Alejandro Vasquez scored 14 points for the Bonnies, and Osun Osunniyi was close behind him with 13 points to go with seven rebounds.

Osunniyi said that Schmidt used the fact that Niagara had beaten SBU each of the past two years as motivation.

“Our mindset was that we weren’t going to lose,” Osunniyi said. “Two years ago they stole one here, so we had the mindset that we weren’t going to let them come in and beat us again.”

Rounding out the double-digit scorers for Bona were Amadi Ikpeze, who had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Justin Winston, who scored 10 points.

The Bonnies shot 46 percent from three-point range (12-for-16), and made 17-of-18 free throws.

Niagara was paced by Marcus Hammond, who scored 21 points. Nicholas Kratholm scored 10 points for the Purple Eagles.

The Bonnies out-rebounded Niagara 39-22, including 10-2 on offensive boards.

“We dealt with adversity, which was good to see,” Schmidt said. “There are a lot of positives. But we’ve got a long way to go, both offensively and defensively.”

This was SBU’s sixth-straight win, and the Bonnies now sit at 7-4 on the year. Niagara falls to 2-7 with the loss.

The Bonnies will not play again in the Reilly Center until Jan. 11, as they begin a four-game road trip at Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

Bonnies honor legends, beat Hofstra

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE — Mark Schmidt described it perfectly.

On the day that the St. Bonventure men’s basketball team honored its legends, the Bonnies played arguably their best game of the season thus far, routing Hofstra at the Reilly Center on Saturday, 73-45.

“It couldn’t have been better,” Schmidt said. “It was a great day to be at Bonaventure and to be a Bonnie.”

SBU continued its celebration of the program’s 100th season by honoring its all-time team at half time, and celebrating its 1970 Final Four team after the game.

The Bonnies went on a 24-1 scoring run that Hofstra could not come back from.

Jaren English had a breakout offensive game for SBU, scoring 17 points and shooting 4-of-5 from three-point range.

English led a tremendous overall day for the Bona offense, which shot 49 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc.

Dom Welch also scored 17 points for the Bonnies, and Bobby Planutis scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

“We have good shooters,” Schmidt said. “It hadn’t been going well, but I thought we shot the ball much better in Florida (last week), and once the ball starts going in it helps your confidence.”

English said that Schmidt talks to the team every day about being ready to play, and that the Bonnies came out excited to play in front of the program’s legends.

“That’s why I came to Bonaventure, is to play in games like this,” English said. “I just want to bring toughness, win games and win championships.

“Coach Schmidt tells me what I need to do, and I do it.”

English, a sophomore guard in his first year at Bona’s after transferring from Ranger Community College in Texas, had averaged nine points per game over his first three appearances prior to Saturday.

“(English) shot the ball really well and he brings a different dimension to our team,” Schmidt said. “He shot 4-of-5 from three, and that was something that we didn’t have over our first three games.”

Osun Osunniyi had a promising game after battling a knee injury over the past few weeks. He scored eight points, pulled down 16 rebounds and blocked two shots.

Hofstra struggled offensively, shooting just under 28 percent from the field and 16 percent from three-point range.

Desure Buie scored 17 points for the Pride, and Eli Pemberton scored nine points.

Up next for the Bonnies is two more home games, as they’ll host Gannon next Saturday and Niagara on Dec. 18.

Bona will then go on the road to finish its non-conference schedule, with trips to Middle Tennessee State and Buffalo.

“We have a lot of inexperience and I don’t think we’re nearly where we need to be, but we’re learning,” Schmidt said. The more we get put in situations, the better we’ll be.”

English, a new face around SBU, seemed right at home when he talked about getting to meet the program’s legends.

“It’s an honor to be in their presence, with all the great things they’ve done for this program,” English said. “Coach Schmidt tells us all the time that we have to play for everyone in this town, and for the people who played before us. We did that today.”

 

Bona wins ugly in Osunniyi’s return

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Justin Myers

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — This was the game Bonnies fans had been waiting to see, as the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team was back at full strength with sophomores Osun Osunniyi and Jaren English back in the rotation.  

Both players returned to action to play significant roles in Tuesday night’s matchup vs. Mercer. The result of this gritty, hard fought performance was a 56-51 victory that improved the team’s record to 2-4 on the year.  

Osunniyi, who returned after four games due to a knee injury, made his presence felt. The big man tallied a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds.  

“You need someone back there (Osunniyi) that cleans up mistakes,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “Osun does a really good job not only just blocking shots, but taking charges as well.”  

English, who played in his first Division I game ever, did not lead the team in scoring, but brought the energy that the Bonnies needed off the bench.  

“He’s a winner,” Schmidt said when asked about the play of English. “Just in practice, his energy, his enthusiasm, his willingness to do what is takes to win, he’s really (our) glue guy.”

The most crucial point of the game that Bonnies fans should remember is the late-game rebound that sophomore guard Dom Welch hustled for that secured their second win of the year 

“When you’re struggling offensively, it affects your defense,” said Schmidt. “This is a good win where it shows the guys that if we don’t play well offensively, but we defend and rebound, we can win games.”   

The Bonnies will now travel to Boca Raton, Florida for the tournament portion of the Boca Beach Classic. St. Bonaventure plays San Diego in the opening round of the tournament on Sunday at 9 p.m.

Bonnies fall to Canisius in Buffalo

photo courtesy of Scott Eddy/gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

BUFFALO — Whatever the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team found offensively in Toronto last week, it didn’t bring back to New York.

The Bonnies (1-4) fell to Canisius (2-2) on Saturday, 61-57, in a sloppy game at KeyBank Center.

SBU shot 38 percent from the field, while Canisius shot 39 percent.

The Golden Griffins took the lead for good with three minutes remaining in the first half. Canisius stretched the lead to as many as 10 points before avoiding a late-game push from the Bonnies.

“Offensively, we were really bad,” Bona head coach Mark Schmidt said. “We got to the foul line, but just really couldn’t get anything going offensively. We weren’t pushing the ball and we didn’t get any easy baskets.”

SBU sophomore guard Kyle Lofton led all scorers with 18 points. Freshman forward Justin Winston added 14 points and five rebounds.

With 34 seconds remaining and the Bonnies trailing by two points, Lofton was called for a pivotal offensive foul while driving to the basket.

Malik Johnson, who drew the foul, hit both ensuing free throws for Canisius, which sunk the momentum of Bona’s comeback.

“They were running a rub action play so I knew (Lofton) was going to try to get down hill,” Johnson said. “I knew if I beat him to the spot and took (the foul) to my chest, it was most likely going to be a charge. I kind of read that play and baited him into it.”

Johnson finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and two steals for the Golden Griffins.

Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon said that Johnson’s “intense desire to win” is what drives the senior point guard.

“(Johnson) has been great for us and building the program,” Witherspoon said. “He’s a ‘we’ guy, not a ‘me’ guy. He’s really about the team, whether he scores or doesn’t score. I think that’s what you ultimately hope to have from your point guard.”

Freshman forward Jacco Fritz had a double-double for Canisius, racking up 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Canisius out-played SBU at the rim, out-rebounding the Bonnies 40-23 total, and 16-8 on offensive rebounds.

Bona’s defense forced 21 turnovers and scored 22 points off of turnovers. However, Canisius led in second-chance points, 16-7, a statistic that Schmidt said was crucial.

“They took it to us physically,” Schmidt said. “To me, that was the difference. Every time we got a stop, it seemed like they got an offensive rebound and put it back.”

Schmidt said that when relying on new players to score points, growing pains should be expected.

“Sometimes (freshman) can do it, and sometimes they don’t,” Schmidt said. “It’s their first year and they’re still trying to learn. Hopefully they’re learning and they have more ups than downs.”

Canisius’ 61 points are the fewest that the team has scored in a win under Witherspoon.

“I’m really proud of our effort and that we stepped up to the challenge of doing a better job rebounding and making free throws,” Witherspoon said.

This was the 168th meeting between the two teams and, remarkably, it was only the ninth time that the game was decided by five or less points.

The Bonnies will return home to host Mercer on Tuesday. Then, they’ll fly to Florida next weekend for the Boca Beach Classic in Boca Raton.

“When you have a young team, you’re going to have some games like this,” Schmidt said. “We need to fight through it and get better.”

 

Sharpshooting freshmen lead Bona to first victory

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

TORONTO — It is often said that a team’s first win can be elusive.

But what the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lacked over its first three games, it found in two instrumental freshmen on Saturday night.

The Bonnies (1-3), led by Alejandro Vasquez and Justin Winston, held on to defeat Rutgers (3-1), 80-74, at Scotiabank Arena.

Vasquez shot 8-of-12 from the field, and 3-of-5 from three-point range, to rack up 20 points.

After the Scarlet Knights worked to get back in the game, Vasquez hit a corner three with 2:30 remaining in the game to put the Bonnies up by eight points.

“That’s a big shot, right there,” Vasquez said. “I was just hoping it would go in.”

Vasquez also pulled down four rebounds and handed out two assists in 32 minutes on the court.

The guard oozed confidence on the court, as he has all season. Vasquez has showed Bona fans that whether he shoots the ball or drives to the basket, he wants to score the ball.

“The memo from the beginning was to come out with energy,” he said. “We wanted to keep that energy the same throughout the game.”

Winston showed his ability to shoot the ball, as he shot 4-of-5 from three-point range and 6-of-11 from the field. He scored 19 points in 34 minutes.

“(Vasquez and Winston) grew up and played with confidence,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “With freshmen, you never know when the light is going to come on. It went on tonight for both of those guys and they couldn’t have played better.”

Schmidt mentioned that with forward Osun Osunniyi out due to an injury, the Bonnies need to rely on their younger players to step up.

“Our young guys are put in a position where a couple of them need to have some success,” Schmidt said. “The game wasn’t too big for them, and that’s what we need.”

SBU shot 49 percent from the field, which was an improvement from the 35 percent that it had shot over its first three games.

The Bonnies also found some better luck from beyond the arc, shooting 45 percent from three. That is a vast improvement from the 23 percent that the team had shot from there before this game.

Kyle Loftton scored 17 points and Dom Welch added 11 points.

“You only gain confidence by playing well, and not just in practice,” Schmidt said. “Hopefully this game will push them forward because they played well against a really good team and should be proud of their efforts.”

Rutgers was hurt by poor shooting, was they shot 42 percent from the field and, more notably, 28 percent from three.

“Basketball is a humbling game and you get what you deserve,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and we didn’t.”

The Scarlet Knights had four players reach double digits in scoring, including Caleb McConnell leading the way with 13 points.

Myles Johnson scored 12 points, Geo Baker added with 11 points and Akwasi Yeboah chipped in with 10 points.

“I think we’re a much better basketball team than how we played today, but to Bonaventure’s credit, they did a good job of not allowing us to play like a good basketball team,” Pikiell said.

In an NBA arena 170 miles away from SBU, the atmosphere felt like a Bona home game at times.

“I’m proud to be the coach at Bonaventure,” Schmidt said. “The alumni, boosters and students come and really do a great job. We have 30,000 alums and it feels like they’re all here.”

The Bonnies will have to wait a week before playing again, as they’ll travel to Buffalo on Saturday to play little three rival Canisius at KeyBank Center.

 

Bonnies fall short to Vermont for second straight year

photo by Erin Lanahan/The Intrepid

By Matt Stasiw

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — With the amazing crowd presence in the Reilly Center on Friday night, every fan could already tell that a rematch between the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team and Vermont would be a battle until the end. 

The Bonnies have played Vermont each of the last three years in exciting non-conference duels.

This year, Vermont was too much for the Bonnies, as the Catamounts edged SBU, 61-59.

A year ago, then-junior Anthony Lamb, who averaged 21 points per game for the Catamounts, scored 41 against the Bonnies. 

On Friday night, Bona’s original game plan seemed to be any possible way to keep Lamb out of the picture. 

The Bonnies started of playing extremely hard with Amadi Ikpeze winning the tip off right away for the Bonnies and scoring the first basket just 29 Seconds into the game. 

Ikepeze proved to be the biggest offensive threat for the Bonnies, scoring 11 points and shooting 5-of-9 on field goals for the game. 

Unnecessary fouls, however, seemed to hold the Bonnies back early, with eight team fouls in the first nine minutes of play. 

Despite these early mistakes, the Bonnies, after being down 14-10 with 11:08 left, went on a 10-0 run in four minutes, capping it when a crazy basket by Bobby Plantutis that still managed to go in. 

Vermont answered right back, going on a 14-4 run to close out the first half, giving them a 28-24 lead heading into the locker room. 

The Bonnies held Anthony Lamb to just 9 points in the first half, keeping their game plan and motivation high going into the second half. 

Bobby Planutis scored the first points 30 seconds into the second half. 

The game kept roaring back and forth with the Bonnies finally going up 40-39 with 11:07 left in the game. 

However, the game plan seemed to fall apart when the Catamounts went on a 12-0 run over four minutes.

Then, an unlikely source of motivation led the Bonnies to come charging back into the game. 

Freshman Justin Winston used his aggressive play to snatch defensive rebounds and get to the line. 

Winston, who had 10 points on the night, helped the Bonnies to bring the deficit within five points, trailing 56-51 with 3:36 left to play. 

The Bonnies had many chances to come back, but unfortunately some late fouls and poor shooting held their efforts short, shooting 4-of-27 from three-point range for the game.  

“I thought we played extremely hard,” Bonnies head coach Mark Schmidt said. “If somebody told me that Anthony Lamb was going to score 15 points and go 0-for-7 from threes, I would have thought that we would’ve won.”

“We got to plat smarter and knock down shots,” Schmidt said when asked what his team’s biggest struggles were during the game. 

The Bonnies hope to improve to 1-2 on the season next Tuesday, as they travel to Siena for their first road contest of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

Game notes: Bonnies host Vermont, hope to slow down Lamb

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Jeff Uveino

ST. BONAVENTURE — Two seasons ago, in his hometown of Rochester, New York, Anthony Lamb did almost everything to beat St. Bonaventure.

At Blue Cross Arena, the then-sophomore scored 27 points for the Vermont men’s basketball team, and if it hadn’t been for a Matt Mobley buzzer beater, the Catamounts would have won.

Last December, Lamb went for 42 points in Vermont’s double-overtime win against the Bonnies at home.

Now, the teams will meet for the third year in a row, as they play Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Reilly Center.

Bona head coach Mark Schmidt knows that if his team is going to earn its first win of the season, it’s going to have to slow down Lamb.

“I’m not sure if we have an answer,” Schmidt said on Thursday. “He can shoot the ball from the perimeter, post up, and he presents a lot of problems. I guess we hope he misses.”

Schmidt pointed out the fact that Lamb has averaged nearly 35 points per game against the Bonnies the last two years.

“There’s a couple different ways we can go about (stopping Lamb),” Schmidt said. “We can let him go and try to stop the other guys, or try to stop him and put it on their other players to make baskets.

“He can’t score 42 again, so whatever we need to do, hopefully we can do a better job than last year.”

After playing two preseason exhibitions, this will be Vermont’s first regular season game of the year.

Lamb did not play in the first exhibition vs. Brown, and played just five minutes in the second, against Saint Michael’s College.

A season ago, the Catamounts went 27-7 and were America East conference champions, earning a trip to the NCAA tournament.

As a No. 13 seed, Vermont was edged by No. 4 Florida State in the first round of the tournament, 76-69.

“They’re a good team and a veteran team,” Schmidt said. “We knew when we set up the schedule that they have a great program. I’m glad we’re playing at home, but it’s going to be difficult and we need to play our best to have a chance.”

Another Vermont player to watch is junior guard Stef Smith, who averaged 12.4 points per game and scored 21 points against the Bonnies a year ago.

The Bonnies will be without sophomore forward Osun Osunniyi, a preseason all-conference selection.

Osunniyi suffered a bone bruise in his knee in SBU’s season-opening loss to Ohio, and it was reported that he could miss up to a month.

Schmidt said that while losing a player of Osunniyi’s caliber is never good, it gives another player a chance.

“We stress it all the time, that you never know when your name is going to get called,” Schmidt said. “Someone’s name is going to get called tomorrow, and hopefully they’re ready and can take advantage of the opportunity.”

SBU is searching for its first win of the season, after losing to Ohio, 65-53, on Tuesday night.

This is only the fourth-ever meeting between the two programs, as they first met in 2015.