ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – The St. Bonaventure Bonnies closed the 2022 calendar year with an impressive win over UMass. To open up 2023, a tough George Mason squad visits the Reilly Center Wednesday night.
Bona and the Patriots tip off at 7 p.m., and the game will air on ESPN+.
George Mason waltzes into Western New York having won seven of their last eight games. In that lone setback, the Patriots lost to in-state rival Old Dominion by a point, 78-to-77. Mason most recently defeated the Richmond Spiders, the 2022 Atlantic 10 Champions, by four on New Year’s Eve.
“[George Mason is] good,” said Mark Schmidt, the St. Bonaventure coach who’s trying to improve to 2-0 in conference play. “They went back to putting [Josh] Oduro at the five, and they have improved. [He’s] the best big guy in the league, a first-team all-conference player. Everything goes through him. But they have very good guards too. They run good stuff, execute, and defend. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Dayton’s DaRon Holmes may have something to say about the “best big guy in the conference” moniker, but that does not take away from the fact that Oduro can dominate inside.
Oduro, the 6-foot-9 senior from Gainesville, Virginia, averages 12.7 points per game, which leads the team. He also grabs seven rebounds per game, leading Mason. The big man rarely shoots from deep, but he uses his excellent vision to distribute the ball back to the perimeter for open looks. Oduro, who averages close to three assists per game, is an indirect reason why Mason shoots 36.7% from 3-point range, which ranks 55th nationally according to KenPom.
“You have to do some things inside not to allow [Oduro] to go one-on-one all the time,” Schmidt explained. “That’s why they are a good team. They surround him with good shooters. When they are shooting the ball, they’re tough to guard. If you play the big guy one-on-one inside, we’re liable to have him score 40 against us. That’s what we have to figure out.”
Bonaventure will need to stop Oduro and the Mason shooters. Easier said than done, but double-teaming Oduro inside and then closing out on the perimeter is paramount to stopping the Patriots.
One of the Mason sharpshooters is Victor Bailey Jr., who transferred to Fairfax, Virginia from Tennessee. Bailey Jr. stands at 6-foot-4 and hails from Austin, Texas. Through 14 games, he has drained 45.2% of his attempts from 3-point land—a mark that ranks third in the conference. He averages 12.6 PPG, second to only Oduro.
Devon Cooper can also shoot the ball well. He averages 10.8 PPG and shoots 36% from deep. With that said, Cooper has made just two 3-pointers on the road this season. Mason has only played two true road games—the season opener at Auburn and then at Old Dominion—so we shall see if Cooper can get comfortable in the Reilly Center.
And Devonte Gaines, a 6-foot-7 senior from Buffalo, returns to Western New York as a formidable forward for Coach Kim English. Gaines currently averages 6.6 PPG and grabs just over six boards per game.
“He’s active, long, and athletic,” Schmidt said of Gaines. “He has a great motor. Offensively, he can really shoot the ball. He’s a stretch four that crashes the offensive glass. He’s a good player.”
Gaines has shot 34% from beyond the arc this season.
You can see why Mason has been on fire as of late. Shots have gone in.
But they struggled early on and have had some problematic stretches because of turnovers. Offensively, the Patriots turn the ball over on 20.8% of their offensive possessions. They fail to force giveaways too. Mason forces turnovers at a rate of just 16% when on defense, good for 322nd nationally per KenPom.
So the Bonnies must exploit this Mason deficiency by playing active defense.
They played terrific defense on New Year’s Eve against the Minutemen, so that defensive form will have to show up again against George Mason.
“When we can defend, that gives us a chance to win,” Schmidt said about his team’s efforts over UMass. “I thought our effort was more consistent, and hopefully, that can continue. But we have had some good games early in the season, but then we fall back into a little lull. Our guys were consistent in what they did against UMass. We are not going to hit 13 threes every game. We have to win on the defensive end. I thought we were more active, but we must do a better job on the backboard.”
Bona beat the Minutemen by 19, yet UMass out-rebounded the Bonnies by seven.
If the Brown and White want to improve to 2-0 in Atlantic 10 play, crashing the glass is crucial. Mason loves to shoot from deep, so corralling those long offensive rebounds is essential. Boxing out on Oduro is a must. If Bona fails to do this, then the Patriots will win their first road game of the year.
“We’re not a great offensive team, so we have to defend and rebound,” Schmidt added. “If we do those two things, then we have a chance. If we don’t, it will be hard to outscore people. We are not going to score 80 points per game. The games we have lost have been in the 60s and 50s. We must defend and rebound—those are two elements we have done at times, but we are not consistent there.”
The Bonnies may not be an offensive juggernaut, but they have sometimes shot the ball well on their home floor.
Daryl Banks III, the transfer from St. Peter’s, leads the Bonnies in scoring, averaging 16.7 PPG. He has drained 46.2% of his 3-point attempts in the eight games played at the Reilly Center this season. He loves to shoot the trey in transition and has had much success doing so. Hence the importance of playing active defense, rebounding, then getting out in transition.
Bona’s defense helped Banks III score 31 points against UMass. The Somerset, New Jersey native poured in six 3-pointers on 12 attempts and converted all seven free throw attempts.
Yann Farell, the freshman phenom from Gabon, has also played well as of late. The 6-foot-6 forward most recently won the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award for the third time this season after scoring 22 points against the Minutemen. He drained four 3-pointers, which tied his career-high set on Nov. 15 versus South Dakota State and on Nov. 19 against Bowling Green.
In his last three games, Farell has scored 13, 11, and 22. But what is most impressive about Farell is how he uses his athleticism to attack the glass. Of the 14 games played this season, Farell has grabbed seven or more rebounds in ten of those games. He’s an impressive player already and will continue to get better. After all, he scored all his points against UMass in the second half, which marks the first time a Bonaventure freshman scored 20 points in a half since Andrew Nicholson did so on Jan. 31, 2009 versus Duquesne.
Yet, against Cleveland State, Iona, and Florida Gulf Coast in mid-December, Farell combined to score just 13 points in those three games. His inconsistency over the last six games is a metaphor for this entire Bonaventure team.
“Our effort has to be consistent,” Schmidt said. “We have to play like it’s the last possession. We don’t have a shot blocker, so we must keep the ball above the foul line. We have to be fundamental too. If our effort is consistent, then we have a chance to win.”
The Bonnies sit at 7-7 but have a 1-0 record in conference play.
This young Bonaventure squad has shown anything but consistency to date. They dominated Notre Dame and UMass but looked lost against Florida Gulf Coast and Buffalo. In every close game they have played, Bona has lost too—thus failing to show consistency within 40-minute stretches.
Hence the importance of Wednesday’s game against George Mason. The Atlantic 10 is historically putrid this season, as the league looks more and more likely to send just one team to the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
But if Bona can get to 2-0 in conference play, the Brown and White have an opportunity to finish in the top half of the conference—a huge building block for the 2023-24 season.
Unfortunately, I do not see it happening. George Mason matches up well against the Bonnies as the Bona big men—Chad Venning and Max Amadasun—have struggled defensively as of late. Oduro has shown flashes of brilliance over the past month, and I envision him having a big day on Bob Lanier Court.
The Bonnies and the Patriots will play a competitive game, but I see George Mason hitting big shots down the stretch as they escape Western New York and claim their first road victory of the season.
George Mason 69, St. Bonaventure 67
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.