BUFFALO, N.Y. – Since the Jim Baron days of the mid-1990s, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies and Buffalo Bulls have shared an intense rivalry that has brought about some terrific games.
A season ago, at the Reilly Center, St. Bonaventure’s Jalen Adaway launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Bonnies a much-needed 68-to-65 victory.
On Saturday, the rivalry shifts back to Amherst, where the Bonnies play at Buffalo for the first time since Dec. 30, 2019.
The game tips off from Alumni Arena at 2:30 p.m. and will air on ESPN+. St. Bonaventure alum Matt Mattia will be on the call as a part of the Buffalo broadcast team for this one.
“It’s always difficult, even with a veteran team,” said St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt when asked about playing a team on the road for just the second time this season. “It’s tough considering that the home team wins 70% of games. You must play with your ‘A-game’ to win on the road.”
The Bonnies have won all four games they have played at home but hold a 1-2 record away from the Reilly Center.
Buffalo, who has an overall record of 3-4, has won two of their three games on their home floor. The Bulls scored victories over a solid Colgate team and Canisius but got run out of their own building by James Madison.
The Bulls lost at UConn and then to Drake and Howard before defeating George Mason in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.
“They are very similar to us with many new guys,” Schmidt said about this Buffalo team. “The [Bulls] are really aggressive. They pick up full court. They get to the ball and try to deny it. Even when they shift to zone, they play it aggressively. They’re getting better, but that system is the same: dribble drives and pressure defense.”
Coach Jim Whitesell’s Buffalo Bulls force 16.4 turnovers per game and defend the perimeter well. Teams that have played the Bulls have made just 29.7% of their 3-point attempts thus far, good for 77th nationally, per KenPom.
But Buffalo has struggled to defend the paint adequately, which is often the case when a team presses for most of the game.
Opposing teams have scored on 53.4% of their attempts from inside the arc, which ranks 279th, according to KenPom.
Fouls have plagued Buffalo too. Thanks to their fast pace, they have allowed teams to shoot a lot from both the field and the free-throw line. Buffalo has the third fastest tempo of any team in the country, per KenPom.
Curtis Jones, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard from Minneapolis, Minnesota, leads the Bulls in scoring, averaging almost 15.0 points per game (PPG).
“He can shoot it and take you off the dribble,” Schmidt said of Jones. “They run that offense where they open up the nail and drive. He’s a good player that can score at all three levels. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s a tough guard.”
Jones has scored 22 points in each of his past three games. He has made 14 3-pointers already this season, with 11 coming during that three-game stretch.
Three other Bulls average at least 9.0 PPG: Zid Powell, Armoni Foster, and Isaiah Adams.
Powell, a 6-foot-4 junior from Philadelphia, is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.0 PPG. After scoring just two points in the loss at UConn, Powell has stepped it up a notch, scoring 15, 17, 11, and 14 over the past four games. He does not shoot the 3-pointer well but instead looks to drive with it.
Foster, another 6-foot-4 guard, hails from Meadville, Pennsylvania. The senior transferred to Buffalo after spending five seasons at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He averages 9.9 PPG and scored a dozen in the 20-point victory over Canisius.
Adams, a 6-foot-6 junior from Jacksonville, Florida, averages 9.1 PPG and 3.3 rebounds per game. He erupted for 24 points against George Mason, shooting 8-of-14 from the field; three of those makes were from 3-point range.
Rounding out the starting five for the Bulls will likely be Jonnivius Smith, who transferred to Buffalo from Seton Hall. He only averages 3.9 PPG and 3.9 rebounds per game, but the Selma, Alabama native stands at 6-foot-9 and weighs 200 pounds, giving Buffalo some size inside.
Of course, St. Bonaventure’s Chad Venning, who stands at 6-foot-10 and weighs 270 pounds, must take advantage of the smaller Smith.
Venning has scored at least 13 points in his past four games. He also averages 5.7 rebounds per game, which ranks second on the team. Although this four-game stretch is a small sample size, Venning has the potential to follow in the footsteps of other successful Bonaventure big men.
“We have had some big guys before [Venning], like [Andrew] Nicholson, Youssou Ndoye, and Osun Osunniyi. He’s not as athletic as those guys; he’s a bigger body kid with good hands and good feet,” Schmidt said of Venning. “But he’s still learning. Any good offense wants to go inside out, and he’s helped us the last three or four games. We want big guys with good hands who can score with their back to the basket, and he can certainly do that.”
Another monster on the glass for the Bonnies has been Yann Farell, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Libreville, Gabon.
“He’s rebounded the ball better than we thought he could rebound it,” Schmidt noted when discussing St. Bonaventure’s first four-star recruit in program history. “He has a long way to go regarding boxing out, taking good shots, and taking guys off the bounce, but he is a young player with a bright future. He listens and is coachable, and we look forward to coaching him for the next four years.”
Farell currently averages 8.0 rebounds per game. He corralled a preposterous 14 boards against Notre Dame and followed that up with eight more against Middle Tennessee. He also averages 9.6 PPG as he uses his height to knock down shots from distance. The freshman has drained 37.5% of his attempts from deep so far this season. Bona will need Farell to both rebound and shoot well in Buffalo.
The Bonnies will also need to rely on their backcourt to break the Buffalo press and score in transition.
Kyrell Luc and Daryl Banks III have led the way for the Bonnies thus far, as both players each average 17.0 PPG.
Luc scored 22 against Middle Tennessee, which included some clutch shots down the stretch. He also leads the team in assists, averaging 5.7 assists per game.
After erupting for a career-high 34 points against Bowling Green on Nov. 19, Banks III has scored 35 points combined over the past three games. He can score at all three levels, but Banks III will do whatever it takes to help his team win. His former coach at St. Peter’s, Shaheen Holloway, noted that Banks III is one of the best winners he had ever coached when he spoke with A10 Talk’s Ray Floriani at Big East Media Day.
Holloway’s point proved correct against Middle Tennessee, as Banks III calmly iced the game from the free-throw line over the final minute.
Both of these players have shot the 3-pointer well so far this season. Luc has made 46.2% of his 3-point attempts, while Banks has shot 43.1% from beyond the arc through seven games.
Along with Farell, these three help explain why Bona currently ranks 55th nationally in 3-point shooting, per KenPom.
To beat the Bulls on Saturday, Bona will have to get the ball inside to Venning, outrebound Buffalo, and let its backcourt dictate the game. Easier said than done for this young team, but that is the formula for success.
The Bonnies will need to play consistently for all 40 minutes too.
“Our job is to go out, prepare, and try to win every game,” Schmidt said. “We won some, but we have let some slip away. We have not played consistently the way you have to offensively and defensively. We have not arrived at all. We have a challenging game against Buffalo, and if we are not consistent against them, they’ll kill us.
Both the Bonnies and the Bulls have young and inexperienced teams. Despite this similarity, the Brown and White have more talent, especially in the backcourt with Luc and Banks III.
Plus, the Bulls do not have the size to keep up with Venning in the middle. With that said, the Bonaventure bench will need to contribute, as this game will likely turn into a track meet due to Buffalo’s fast tempo and press. Although Venning’s conditioning has improved significantly, he will need a breather from time to time. And foul trouble cannot relegate him to the bench, either.
Yet, I like the Bonnies to win their fifth straight game against an inconsistent Buffalo team. The bench will provide a much-needed spark, but this game will come down to the final minutes. The backcourt will seal the deal for the Bonnies, who will improve to 6-2 on the season.
St. Bonaventure 82, Buffalo 77
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.