ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – Following a tough loss at George Mason, and after playing their first four of five conference games on the road, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (11-5, 3-2 Conf.) return home to face the St. Joseph’s Hawks (9-10, 3-5 Conf.) on Saturday.
The game tips off at 2:00 p.m. and will be televised on the USA Network.
This weekend marks winter homecoming weekend on the campus of St. Bonaventure University.
In a way, it’s a homecoming of sorts for the basketball team too. They have played just one home game since Dec. 8.
“Four out of five on the road to start [is difficult],” St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt told the media on Friday. “There’s nothing like the Reilly Center when the students are there. I know the students will be there tomorrow. It will be a great crowd and it will be loud. That’s what we need. It’s a great home court and it’s been a great home court since I have been here and I expect it to be tremendous tomorrow.”
Perhaps tomorrow’s home game will help level out the inconsistencies that have plagued the Bonnies since mid-November.
Ever since winning the Charleston Classic, Bona has struggled to string one solid performance after another. They have shown flashes of brilliance, but also have displayed moments of despair.
“We haven’t been as consistent as we want to be,” Schmidt said. “Offensively, we are still sharing the ball, getting the ball to the paint, and doing all that stuff. But defensively, we are trying to keep the ball in front of us, and that’s where we have struggled.”
Scouting the St. Joseph’s Hawks
The Bonnies and the Hawks have a storied history, having played each other 81 times.
But ever since St. Joseph’s defeated Bona in the 2014 Atlantic 10 semifinal game, the Bonnies have dominated the series. Bona has won 13 of the last 14 games, with the only loss occurring on Jan. 6, 2018 in Philadelphia.
In 2015-16, the Hawks finished the season with a record of 28-8 and defeated Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament that year. But they have failed to finish a season above .500 since. It has been tough sledding for St. Joe’s over the last few seasons.
It’s been somewhat of a struggle once again this season too. Although St. Joe’s is 9-10, they have defeated just one team in the KenPom Top 100, which was Richmond. The Hawks dominated the Spiders on Dec. 30, winning 83-to-56.
“St. Joe’s can not turn the ball over,” Anthony Morelli, who covers the Hawks for A10 Talk, told me. “Turnovers have plagued this team all season and they will need to limit them versus SBU.”
Indeed, the Hawks have turned it over on 20.2% of their offensive possessions this season, which ranks 265th nationally, according to KenPom. They also fail to force turnovers on the defensive end, ranking 349th in that department, per KenPom.
For the Hawks to have any success against the Bonnies, they will need to take good care of the rock. After all, whoever wins the turnover battle likely wins the game.
But similar to George Mason, St. Joseph’s can shoot the ball well from deep. Their shooting prowess makes up for their struggles in taking care of the basketball. As a team, the Hawks have drained 34.4% of their three-point attempts this season, according to KenPom. But in conference play alone, the Hawks rank fourth in the Atlantic 10 in three-point shooting, per KenPom.
Just this week, in the two games at George Mason and versus Duquesne, the Hawks combined to make 25 three-pointers.
St. Joseph’s has two prolific shooters, who also happen to be the best players on the team.
One of those players is Jordan Hall, a sophomore guard from Wildwood, New Jersey, who leads the team in scoring and in assists. He averages 15.2 points per game (PPG) while also recording 6.5 assists per game. He shoots it well from deep, as he has made 37% of his three-point attempts so far this season.
“Hall is 6-foot-7 [and he’s] a point guard [that] does it all,” Schmidt noted. “He’s really improved his shot, he’s got a really good feel, a good IQ for the game, [and] he’s a great distributor. He played great last year. Statistically, he’s shooting the ball better this year from beyond the arc.”
Earlier this season, he exploded for 33 against the University of Pennsylvania and then followed that performance up by scoring 26 versus Temple. He can heat up like a microwave and can score from both inside and out.
The other player to watch out for is Taylor Funk, who led the team in scoring a season ago. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native currently averages 14.7 PPG and brings down 7.2 rebounds per game. He shoots 42.3% from beyond the arc. Funk, who stands at 6-foot-8, uses his size and high-release to shoot over defenders. This could be an issue for a Bonaventure team that does not have a starter taller than 6-foot-5 outside of forward Osun Osunniyi.
“Funk has always been a really good shooter, but he’s their leading offensive rebounder now,” Schmidt said when asked about the sophomore. “He’s a guy that can really shoot the ball.”
The Bonnies have struggled to defend the three-ball this season, as they have allowed their opponents to shoot 35.7% from deep thus far. That ranks 280th nationally, according to KenPom.
“St. Joe’s is a great three-point shooting team,” Schmidt said. “They drive and kick, so we gotta be able to keep the ball in front of us, get back in transition [defensively], try to keep them in the half court, and locate their shooters. We had too many blow byes against George Mason, which gave them open shots.”
Three-point shooting will likely determine the outcome of this game.
But even though St. Joseph’s can light it up from deep, they struggle to have success offensively inside. They made 13 three-pointers at George Mason on Monday, and yet, they lost by six.
“Three point shooting needs to be balanced with inside scoring,” Morelli told me.
If St. Joe’s can get it to the paint, and then work it back outside to their open shooters, the Bonnies could be in for a long afternoon. But this has been a point of emphasis at Bonaventure’s practices over the last couple of days.
“We gotta do a good job trying to keep the ball out of the post,” Schmidt said. “When it goes into the post, we gotta time it up [better].”
Ultimately, on Saturday against the Hawks, the Bonnies cannot get burned by doubling up defensively, just as they did last Wednesday in Northern Virginia.
In the first half against George Mason, Senior guard Dominick Welch drained four three-pointers and was primarily responsible for keeping the game close at halftime. But in the second half, Welch and his teammates grew cold as Bona made just 3-of-13 attempts from beyond the arc.
Instead of trying to force up three-pointers, the Bonnies should have gotten more downhill and driven it right to the paint.
They will need to do that against St. Joseph’s.
And I think they will.
Senior guard Jaren Holmes has done a terrific job of getting to the basket as of late. He draws more contact than anyone else on the team and currently leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.2 PPG.
Kyle Lofton, who sprained his left ankle on Dec. 1, still does not look fully healthy. But he still managed to score 15 points at George Mason on Wednesday. So perhaps Lofton has turned a corner. I think both he and Holmes have big games against the Hawks on Saturday, on both sides of the floor. Plus, the Bonnies cannot lose in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd, right?
St. Bonaventure 77, St. Joseph’s 69
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.