ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – After a rather tumultuous week in Cattaraugus County, a familiar foe returns to the Reilly Center for the first time since 2018.
On Saturday at 4 p.m., the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (6-1, 0-0) will take on the Buffalo Bulls (4-2, 0-0) in front of what will be a sold out crowd. For those not attending, the game will air on NBC Sports Digital.
Last Saturday, Northern Iowa made 15 three-pointers in route to a 90 to 80 victory over the Bonnies, giving Bona their first loss of the year.
Four nights later, against Coppin State, Bona prevailed 93 to 81. But when the clock struck zero, the game felt like a loss as star point guard Kyle Lofton rolled his left ankle with 50 seconds to go. Named to the Bob Cousy Preseason Award Watch List, Lofton needed to be helped off the floor due to his injury.
On Friday morning, reports emerged that Lofton suffered a high-ankle sprain, causing him to miss multiple weeks. With that said, on Friday afternoon, the St. Bonaventure Athletic Department ruled Lofton as “day-to-day” and that he “suffered no structural damage” to his left ankle.
Bonnies fans can exhale.
Nonetheless, Lofton will likely not suit up against Buffalo, which only makes an already tough game even tougher.
Thus, let’s take a look at the Bulls from Amherst.
Scouting the Buffalo Bulls
On opening night, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Josh Mballa drained a free throw with six minutes remaining to cut the Michigan deficit to just five points. The mighty Wolverines of Michigan would go on to prevail, 88 to 76, but the Bulls made quite an impression against the 6th ranked team in the nation.
Buffalo was selected to finish first in the Mid-American Conference preseason poll back for a reason. They are a top-75 team that could make some noise come March.
“Buffalo is a tough team to guard,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt told the media on Friday. “That’s why they have scored a lot of points, but it’s not a post-up game, it’s more of an attacking [style of play]. They get their points in the paint by getting to the paint via the dribble, and that’s what we have to try to defend as best we can. It’s going to be difficult.”
The Bulls love to attack the paint. Each one of their starters can slash to the rim from the perimeter, which is one of the reasons why Buffalo currently averages 85.0 points per game.
Another reason for this is that Buffalo loves to get out and run. The Bulls currently rank 21st in the country in tempo. To add to that, their average possession length barely lasts 15 seconds, which ranks 11th nationally, according to KenPom.
It also helps that Buffalo coach Jim Whitesell has one of the most experienced teams in the country.
In their game against Illinois State on Nov. 24, the last Division I opponent the Bulls have played, four of Buffalo’s five starters were seniors.
Mballa, the 6-foot-7 senior forward from France, scored 29 points, shot 12 of 18 from the floor, and snagged eight rebounds. He was the main reason why Buffalo defeated Illinois State 106 to 90.
“Mballa is more of a perimeter guy,” Schmidt said when asked about the Frenchman. “He’s not a big post-up guy per se, he’s more of a guy that catches on the perimeter and drives it.”
The last time the Bonnies played the Bulls, in 2019 in Amherst, Mballa not only scored 14 points, but he also grabbed 15 rebounds. Buffalo prevailed 84-79 as the Bulls currently hold a two game winning streak against Bona.
In a heartbreaking loss to Stephen F. Austin, Ronaldo Segu, a 6-foot guard from Orlando, scored 25 points and led the team in assists. Segu can light it up on any night. He has also made 46.4% of his three-point attempts thus far.
Then there is Jeenathan Williams, who played his high school ball at UPREP in Rochester, New York. Williams currently leads the team in scoring, as the 6-foot-5 senior averages 18.8 PPG. Williams erupted for 32 points at Michigan and most recently dropped 18 against Point Park, an NAIA school located in Pittsburgh.
Another player to watch out for should be a familiar face to Atlantic 10 fans. Maceo Jack, the senior guard who transferred to Buffalo from George Washington, currently averages 11.2 PPG and shoots 38.7% from beyond the arc.
Jack, a native of Williamsville, New York, is the son of Felisha Legette-Jack, who is the Head Women’s basketball coach at Buffalo.
In three career games against the Bonnies, Jack has averaged 12.3 PPG. But that stat is somewhat misleading since the former Colonial has scored 3, 28, and 6 against Bona respectively.
All in all, the Bulls are a very tough team. The Bonnies will have their hands full, especially if Lofton does not play, which seems like that will be the case.
How Do The Bonnies Win?
First and foremost, the Bonnies need to control the paint on both ends of the floor.
“The team that owns the paint is going to be the team that wins the game, both by driving it and by rebounding the ball,” Schmidt said.
As I have written before, Bona needs to attack the rim once again to have success against Buffalo. Without Lofton, presumably, both Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway will need to take matters into their own hands and drive to the paint. Even guard Dom Welch can slash to the dish too. The more movement on offense for Bona, the better the outcome will be. Driving to the paint creates endless opportunities. Look at Bonaventure’s most dominant win so far: Bona scored 50 points in the paint to Marquette’s 18. The Bonnies won 70 to 54 and the game was not as close as the final score indicated.
The Bonnies are the better rebounding team, and they need to display that strength at the Reilly Center on Saturday. Senior Jaren Holmes, the 6-foot-4 guard from Romulus, Michigan, currently leads the team in rebounding. He averages 8.0 rebounds per game and corralled ten boards in the win over Coppin State. Guard Jalen Adaway, nicknamed “Flight 33” because he can leap through the roof, snagged 16 rebounds in last Wednesday’s game. Holmes and Adaway will need to continue this trend against Buffalo if Bona wants to have success. Of course, Osun Osunniyi, the 6-foot-10 forward, needs to crash the glass as well.
Another important factor in this game will be the bench.
Bona currently ranks dead last in the country, which is 357th, in bench minutes played.
“The more guys that we can bring off the bench, the better,” Schmidt emphasized. “Hopefully [Linton Brown] can make some shots for us. That is what his strength is.”
Indeed, Brown will be available for Schmidt on Saturday against the Bulls. He has been battling a non-COVID illness for the past few days.
“If Kyle can’t go, then another guy gets an opportunity to play,” Schmidt added when discussing the role of his bench. “If you get an opportunity, and if you are prepared, then you are going to have some success. When there is an opportunity for guys to play, they need to be prepared, and that is what practices and the summer have been all about. If they do get an opportunity, we hope and we think that they can be successful.”
It will be interesting to see who will start for the Bonnies and how the rotation will look if Lofton does in fact not play. Perhaps Karim Abdul Coulibaly gets the start against a bigger Buffalo team. Or does Schmidt start Quadry Adams, the Wake Forest transfer, alongside Holmes in the back court.
Either way, Coach Schmidt wants his to team to stick to their guns.
“We are going to play the way we are capable of playing,” Schmidt noted when asked about his game strategy. “Offensively, we are going to try and score in the first 12 seconds of the [shot] clock. If we don’t, then we will run some offense. Defensively, we [will] try to keep [Buffalo] in the half-court. We want to force a five-on-five game defensively and we want to score in the open court before they get set up [defensively] and if they don’t, then we have to run our offense.”
On the A10 Talk Podcast a month ago, I noted that this was the most underrated game on St. Bonaventure’s non-conference schedule. Buffalo is a great team with both experience and depth. It would not be surprising if the Bulls emerged victorious considering the injuries that Bona currently has.
However, the pregame party at the Richter Center is sold out. The Reilly Center is sold out. The Brown and White are desperate for a big win after a tough week.
“We gotta be able to guard our yard,” Schmidt said on Friday.
Unlike last Saturday against Northern Iowa, I like the Bonnies to defend their home court in front of a raucous Reilly Center in a tightly contested track meet.
St. Bonaventure 84, Buffalo 83
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.