ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – Following a disappointing performance at rival Buffalo, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies return home to the Reilly Center to play the Cleveland State Vikings, a red-hot team that has won six straight.
This game tips off from Bob Lanier Court at 7:00 p.m. and will air again on ESPN+.
Pollsters selected Cleveland State to finish seventh in the Horizon League preseason poll. Yet, this Vikings team, led by first-year coach Daniyal Robinson, has proved doubters wrong thus far.
“They are really good,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt when discussing this Cleveland State team. “They defend very well, play aggressively, and deny stuff. Offensively, they attack the paint. [The Vikings] have very good players. They’re a good team that runs good stuff. They have hard, tough kids that compete. That’s why they have won six games in a row.”
After beginning the season with three straight losses, the Vikings scored their first victory at Canisius on Nov. 16. Wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Chicago State, Western Michigan, Oakland University, and Detroit Mercy have followed since.
Cleveland State has strung together these wins because of their efforts on defense. Outside of their 92-to-77 victory over Detroit Mercy, the Vikings have not allowed any of their opponents they have beaten to score more than 64 points.
The Vikings play at a snail’s pace, which limits the number of opportunities teams have to score. But they also hold teams to an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of just 45.3%, ranking 52nd nationally per KenPom. eFG% adjusts for a 3-point field goal counting for one more point than a 2-point field goal.
Cleveland State has also played solid perimeter defense to date. Their opposition has made just 27.5% of their attempts from beyond the arc, suitable for 36th in the nation, per KenPom.
On the other end, the Vikings have a somewhat inconsistent offense. They do not take many 3-pointers but instead like to work the ball inside. With that said, Cleveland State has scored more than 70 points in four of their past five games.
Tristan Enaruna, Tae Williams, and Deshon Parker lead this team offensively. Each player averages more than ten points per game (PPG) for the Vikings.
Enaruna, a 6-foot-8 junior from Almere, Netherlands, leads Cleveland State in scoring and rebounding. He averages 12.6 points per game (PPG) and snags roughly seven boards per contest. He recorded a double-double against Canisius and has scored at least nine points in every game of his team’s current winning streak.
Enaruna does not step out and shoot the three often, but he has made four 3-pointers so far this season.
Williams, the team’s second-leading scorer, stands at 6-foot-7 and hails from Chicago, Illinois. He currently averages 10.8 PPG while bringing down 5.2 rebounds per game. He erupted for 23 points against Detroit Mercy, going 10-for-18 from the field.
And then there’s Parker, who leads the team in assists. At 6-foot-4, the Dayton, Ohio native dishes out 5.9 assists per game and averages 10.7 PPG. Parker began his collegiate career at James Madison, then transferred to Appalachian State before settling in Cleveland. He, too, does not shoot the 3-pointer often but instead uses his athleticism to attack the paint and distribute.
Once again, for the Bonnies, the battle of the paint will dictate the outcome of this game.
Cleveland State attempts just 17 3-pointers per game, so Bona should prioritize locking down the interior on defense.
That starts with Chad Venning playing valuable minutes. When the redshirt sophomore plays more than 22 minutes, the Bonnies have a 4-0 record. His 6-foot-10, 270-pound frame anchors the Bonaventure defense. He was a key reason why Bona limited Notre Dame to just 51 points.
But when Venning played just 13 minutes at Buffalo, the Bulls put up 83 points against the Bonnies. He got into foul trouble early and failed to score a point.
“The key for him is to stay out of foul trouble,” Schmidt said of his big man. “He can’t get cheap ones. We’re a better team when he’s in the game. It’s hard to win when your five-man does not score a bucket. He has to be smart, pick his spots, and play more intelligently.”
Venning must stay disciplined against this aggressive Cleveland State team.
Bona will also need to attack the paint offensively, whether by the dribble or via an entry pass into Venning.
Getting the ball inside opens up the whole floor.
But seriously one obvious thing these NBA guys tend to miss on is that college guys can't play an outside-in shooting game like the damn Warriors, the talent level isn't nearly high enough. Threatening the paint and collapsing the defense to find open shooters is still the way.
— Petey Buckets (@peteybuckets) December 6, 2022
“Threatening the paint and collapsing the defense” opens up the perimeter regardless of what Atlantic 10 team takes the floor.
Bona struggled to get to the rim against Buffalo, and they made just three 3-pointers against the Bulls. That mark tied a season-low. They also drained three 3-pointers against South Dakota State, a game in which the Bonnies racked up 26 fouls, and seemingly every player faced foul trouble. The Bonnies struggled to get to the rim against the Jacks too.
Kyrell Luc and Daryl Banks III will need to shoulder the load of getting the ball inside.
Luc, the 5-foot-11 guard from Dorchester, Massachusetts, averages 16.0 PPG. He leads the team in assists with 5.4 per game.
Luc has played phenomenally at times this season. He’s hit some big-time shots, played solid perimeter defense, and has made sound decisions. He did not play his best at Buffalo, so Luc hopes to return to form on his home floor. Using his athleticism to attack the basket is a good starting point.
The same goes for Banks III.
The 6-foot-3 junior from Somerset, New Jersey, has scored in double-figures in every game thus far, except for the win against Notre Dame when he scored eight. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.9 PPG. Banks III scored 16 at Buffalo but went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. I sound like a broken record here, but for Banks III to succeed from the perimeter, Bona needs to work the ball inside to open up space outside.
Yann Farell would benefit from this as well.
The 6-foot-6 freshman phenom from Gabon has been Bonaventure’s best 3-point shooter through eight games. He averages 10.6 PPG and shoots 37.0% from beyond the arc. He managed to shoot 2-for-6 from deep at Buffalo. Ironically, he went 2-for-6 from the free-throw line against the Bulls. Bona most certainly needs to practice their free throws.
Moses Flowers, Anquan Hill, and Brett Rumpel all hope to contribute off the bench against Cleveland State. These three players can shoot well from deep if given space. Flowers’ role has increased dramatically over the past couple of games; look for him to make an impact.
Attacking the paint also opens the door for back-door cuts and easy baskets.
Freshman Barry Evans has already been on the receiving end of a few of these plays. Getting Evans more involved offensively will make Bona more balanced and much harder to defend. Evans, who stands at 6-foot-8, scored a dozen in the season opener but has yet to score more than ten points since. He averages 6.6 PPG.
With all this in mind, Bonnies fans everywhere know by now that this team is one of the youngest teams in the country. Bumps in the road will happen. This team has come a long way since the season opener, but they have much to improve upon.
“Every component needs to improve,” Schmidt noted. “I have said it over and over again; we are not nearly where we need to be in all areas: offense, defense, foul shooting, and rebounding. We will have some growing pains; it’s just how it is.”
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies have not yet lost on their home floor this season.
Despite that, Bona cannot overlook this red-hot Cleveland State team.
This game will feature numerous lead changes where points will be at a premium. But down the stretch, the Bonnies will hit some big shots on their home floor and pull away to grab their sixth victory. Look for Luc to take over late in the second half.
I also think Venning will bounce back, as the Bonnies get back on track.
St. Bonaventure 66, Cleveland State 61
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.