ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – On Tuesday, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (17-7, 9-4 Conference) will host the Rhode Island Rams (13-12, 4-9 Conference) in what will be their first matchup of the season. Bona has reeled off five straight wins while Rhody has lost five of their last six. Tip-off from the Reilly Center is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will air nationally on CBS Sports Network.
The last time the Rhode Island Rams visited the Reilly Center was on Jan. 25, 2020, a mere six weeks before COVID-19 completely upended society. The team from the Ocean State bested the Bonnies by six as star guard Fatts Russell scored 29 points to lead the Rams. To the delight of Bonnie fans, Russell will not be lighting up the Reilly Center once again. He now plays for the University of Maryland.
A season ago, the Rams beat the Bonnies once more. In that game in Kingston, Jaren Holmes suffered back spasms and saw just a single minute of game action. Osun Osunniyi played just 27 minutes as he found himself in foul trouble for the majority of the game. As such, the short-handed Bonnies lost by six.
Rhode Island is one of two teams in the conference that currently holds a winning streak against the Bonnies. The Dayton Flyers are the other.
The Bonnies have not beaten the Rams since the 2019 Atlantic 10 semifinal game.
But even though Bona has not faced Rhode Island yet this season, the Rams still play a tough, physical, and defensive style of basketball.
“[Rhody is] physical and big,” said St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt, who owns a career record of 8-11 against Rhode Island. “They like to pound the ball inside. They have the twins. They play really good half-court defense. I would assume that it’s going to be a physical game, a low-scoring defensive game.”
Makhel and Makhi Mitchell, the twins who star for this Rhode Island team, combine to score 21.0 points per game (PPG).
Makhel, who stands at 6-foot-10, leads the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 PPG. He scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Saturday’s loss at George Washington.
Alongside Makhel in the frontcourt is Makhi, who leads the teams in rebounding. Standing at 6-foot-9, he averages 7.5 rebounds per game.
Over his last five games, Makhi has averaged 10.4 rebounds per game. He also scores 9.8 PPG.
“They are both really, really talented,” Schmidt said when asked about the Mitchell twins. “They are two of the better big-guys in the league. They have really good skill, athleticism, and good timing on blocked shots. They can score both inside and outside. They have it all.”
What’s interesting about this Rhode Island team is that no player averages more than 30 minutes per game. Rhode Island Coach David Cox employs a deep rotation, usually playing eight-to-nine players per game. Hence why this team plays so aggressively and physically on the defensive end.
The Rams have the third-best defense in the conference in terms of efficiency. They also have the best block percentage out of any team in the Atlantic 10, per KenPom.
Because of this, the team that wins the turnover battle and scores more points in the paint will likely be the winner of this game.
“It’s always important for both teams,” Schmidt said when asked about the turnover battle. “From an offensive standpoint, you want to take care of the ball and get good shots. And defensively, you want to try and get some offense off of your defense. It’s easier when you get steals, get numbers, and you don’t have to attack a half-court set defense. Rhode Island is very good in the half-court. They’re exceptional. If not the best, [they are] one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 in the half-court. They block shots. They are physical. They do a really good job. Trying to get some turnovers and getting some easy baskets will be important.”
The Bonnies have feasted on turnovers as of late. Bona has forced 14.8 turnovers per game during their five-game win streak.
Meanwhile, Rhody has struggled to keep good care of the basketball. According to KenPom, the Rams turn the ball over on 21.0% of their offensive possessions, which ranks 317th in the country.
Look for the Bonnies to force turnovers in bunches once again.
Senior guard Dominick Welch has recorded nine steals during this current winning streak and has been a key reason as to why the Bonnies are surging.
He scored 16 more points in last Saturday’s drubbing of Duquesne while also grabbing six rebounds.
But Welch has not been the only Bonnie that has stepped up.
Jalen Adaway has averaged 17.2 PPG during this winning streak. He scored a game-high 21 points against Duquesne. Adaway has been so crafty with his turnaround jumpers. He is so athletic and uses that to separate from defenders when shooting. He’s found more success from downtown too. The Logansport, Indiana native has drained 42% of his attempts from three-point range this season.
The Bonnies seem to be clicking at the right time. But this Rhode Island team has proven to be a tough opponent. The Rams defeated Davidson, who currently sits atop the conference standings, on Feb. 12. They also gave the Dayton Flyers some fits, as they lost at Dayton by two at the end of January and then again by six in Kingston on Valentine’s Day.
So even though the Rams are closer to the cellar of the Atlantic 10 standings than to the top, they should still not be taken lightly. This is a tough, physical team and the Bonnies will need to be at their best to take care of business on their home floor. Considering they are approaching the NCAA Tournament bubble, they absolutely cannot afford to let their guard down against anyone.
The Rhode Island Rams have a formidable duo inside with the Mitchell twins. But the Bonnies have the stronger starting five with more experience. All five Bona starters average more than 10.0 PPG and each has played a vital role in helping this team regain some of that early-season swagger.
I expect this game to be a slugfest. The team that controls the paint, forces more turnovers, and wins both the rebounding and turnover battle will come out on top.
The Bonnies have done just that over their past five games and they will continue to keep this train rolling on Tuesday. Bona has lost to Rhode Island by six points in their last two meetings. But this time around, it will be the Bonnies that prevail by six on their home floor.
St. Bonaventure 69, Rhode Island 63
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.