ELMONT, N.Y. – After two straight victories, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies head downstate to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the new UBS Arena, which sits adjacent to Belmont Park.
Tip-off from the arena that the New York Islanders call home is slated for 4 p.m. The game will once again air on ESPN+.
Interestingly enough, Notre Dame and St. Bonaventure have faced off on a neutral floor once before. In 1978, as a part of the Kodak Classic, a tournament hosted by Les Harrison at the War Memorial in Rochester, New York, the fifth-ranked Irish defeated the Bonnies 79-to-78.
Bona historically holds a 2-5 record against Notre Dame, although the two have not squared off since Dec. 22, 1994.
“We are excited to play an ACC team,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt after Tuesday’s win over Southern Indiana. “The Irish are a talented team and well-coached. We have our work cut out for us, but we want to play these types of games in those types of environments.”
Notre Dame, one of the oldest teams in the country, currently boasts an undefeated record. The Irish have scored wins over Radford, Youngstown State, Southern Indiana, Lipscomb, and Bowling Green.
Despite winning those five home games, Notre Dame has an average margin of victory of just 7.8 points. In the season opener against Radford, Notre Dame won 79-to-76. Then against Lipscomb, the Irish won by just a point, 66-to-65.
Notre Dame’s veterans have allowed them to close out games down the stretch.
On the flip side, Bonaventure does not have that experience. Their youth was on display against Canisius and South Dakota State, in which Bona held a second-half lead but could not seal the deal.
So Friday’s game pits two different teams against each other: old versus young, Power Five versus non-Power Five.
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey, who has coached the Fighting Irish since 2000, currently employs a six-man rotation.
Yet five players average at least 33 minutes per game: Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, JJ Starling, Trey Wertz, and Cormac Ryan.
Laszewski, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound graduate student from Jupiter, Florida, leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.6 points per game (PPG). The big man has played for Notre Dame since the 2018-19 season, a rarity in college basketball these days.
He came off the bench to score 18 points against Rutgers in the 2022 First four. Now a starter, Laszewski has scored at least 14 points in each game thus far. He has made 11-of-21 of his 3-point attempts thus far, so defending him on the perimeter poses a challenge.
Goodwin can also shoot from distance. And like Laszewski, Goodwin is in his fifth year at Notre Dame. The 6-foot-6 senior guard from Upper Arlington, Ohio, averages 15.4 PPG. In the close victory over Lipscomb, Goodwin scored 24 points. He also converted on six 3-pointers, which tied a career-high. He too has made more than 50% of his 3-point attempts through five games this season.
Starling and Wertz also shoot the 3-pointer well.
Starling, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Baldwinsville, New York, averages 14.0 PPG and shoots 43.8% from beyond the arc. He erupted for 23 points against Bowling Green, making ten of 11 shots.
Wertz currently averages 13.2 PPG and also dishes out four assists per game. The 6-foot-5 senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, shoots 37.8 from 3-point range. Wertz, who started his career at Santa Clara, failed to score more than ten points over the past two games. Yet, he scored 18 in the opener and then 20 against Southern Indiana.
Rounding out the starting five for the Fighting Irish is Cormac Ryan, a 6-foot-5 senior from New York, New York. Unlike the rest of his fellow starters, Ryan has struggled with his shot thus far. He has made just 36.6% of his attempts from the field overall and has converted on just 20% of his 3-point attempts. Nonetheless, he still averages 10.8 PPG.
Notre Dame has a thin rotation because they are missing a key contributor due to injury. Marcus Hammond, who transferred to South Bend from Niagara this past offseason, has not played yet this season due to a sprained MCL.
Yet, the Bonnies will have their hands full with this Notre Dame team.
Turnovers, a trademark of a young team, have plagued the Bonnies so far this season. Interestingly enough, however, Notre Dame ranks dead last in the country in turnover percentage defensively. Of all of their defensive possessions played, opponents have turned it over against the Irish on just 12.8% of their possessions, according to KenPom.
Notre Dame has also allowed its opponents to shoot 52.6% from the field and 35.1% from 3-point range. Yet, they have only given up more than 70 points just twice.
As has been the case in every Bonaventure game thus far, the Bonnies need to get downhill and attack the paint.
Going back to Chad Venning will help that cause.
Venning, the 6-foot-10 sophomore from Brooklyn, returns to the tri-state area looking to continue his dominance inside. Over the past two games, Venning has averaged 18.0 PPG. He also grabbed seven rebounds in each contest while avoiding foul trouble.
Kyrell Luc has also done an excellent job facilitating the offense and ensuring the ball gets to the paint. Luc currently ranks 2nd in the Atlantic 10 with 6.2 assists per game. He also averages 16.0 PPG.
Luc and Venning will need to exploit the Notre Dame interior if the Bonnies want to pull off the upset.
3-point shots will need to fall too.
Daryl Banks III and Yann Farell have made plenty of 3-pointers over the past three games.
Banks III, who currently leads the team in scoring at 19.2 PPG, has made 42.5% of his 3-point attempts this season. He has made nine 3-pointers over his past two games in the Reilly Center. Yet, he struggled to find his shot at Canisius and in South Dakota. If Banks III can get comfortable at UBS Arena, the Bonnies have a chance to give the Fighting Irish their first loss of the season.
Bona has drained 36.3% of their 3-point attempts thus far, good for 96th in the country, according to KenPom.
Yann Farell, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Libreville, Gabon, is a big reason why the Bonnies have had some success from deep early on this season.
Over his past three games, Farell has scored 16, 14, and 13 points, respectively. During that stretch, he has made 11 3-pointers. Yet, Farell combined to make just one longball in the opener vs. St. Francis and then at Canisius. Foul trouble plagued him in Buffalo, and perhaps he had some butterflies in his collegiate debut.
Nonetheless, Farell has emerged as the X-Factor of this young Bonaventure team. Standing at 6-foot-6, Farell can use his height and frame to shoot over defenders. He also leads the team in rebounding, averaging close to seven per game. He will need to dominate on the glass once again.
Unfortunately for Bona, Notre Dame’s experience and shooting prowess will be too much to overcome. The Fighting Irish went to the NCAA Tournament a season ago and return four key contributors from that team.
The Bonnies will keep things interesting; they have too much talent not to do so. But Bona will falter due to some late-game mistakes. Win or lose, this game will serve as an important lesson for this young team. Unfortunately, the Brown and White will learn a hard lesson in Elmont.
Notre Dame 76, St. Bonaventure 72
Jack Milko is a current graduate student at St. Bonaventure University. He will graduate with an M.A. in Sports Journalism in May 2023. He also covers the Bonnies for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure ’20.