FAIRFAX, Va. – Due to scheduling quirks and COVID-19 postponements, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (11-4, 3-1 Conf.) will play their third consecutive road game on Wednesday evening. Bona will travel to Northern Virginia to take on the George Mason Patriots (9-7, 2-1 Conf.) at Eagle Bank Arena.
The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.
The Brown and White head to the DMV-metro area coming off a big road win against rival Duquesne. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who were the last team in the Atlantic 10 to begin conference play due to a COVID-19 pause, have defeated both Dayton and St. Joseph’s within the past four days.
Scouting the George Mason Patriots
George Mason comes into this game just two games over .500, but they are a much better team than their overall record indicates.
Back in November, the Patriots upset then #20 Maryland in College Park. But just two nights later, George Mason lost at James Madison by three points. The Patriots would proceed to lose the following four games before defeating Navy, Georgia, and American to close out the 2021 calendar year.
Then on January 1, first-year head coach Kim English brought his team to Lawrence, Kansas to take on Bill Self and his mighty Kansas Jayhawks. The Patriots showed a lot of fight and tenacity, but they ultimately came up short, losing by nine.
Then Mason went on a long COVID-19 pause before losing to George Washington on Jan. 17. How could the Patriots lose to the Colonials? Well, Mason was without their best player, Josh Oduro.
“Oduro is probably the most improved big guy in the league,” St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt told the media on Tuesday. “He presents problems because he can shoot the ball from the outside, he can take guys off the dribble, and he has more ball skills out on the perimeter.”
Standing at 6-foot-9, Oduro, a junior forward from Gainesville, Virginia, currently averages 17.7 points per game (PPG) and shoots 37.5% from beyond the arc on his home floor.
“He’s a difficult matchup because he can do it both inside and outside,” Schmidt added. “He’s having a heck of a year.”
Indeed he is.
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Oduro ranks second on the team in rebounding, averaging 6.6 per game. In fact, he recorded a double-double in the close victory over Dayton last Saturday, which was his first game back after battling COVID-19.
Yes, Oduro is that important to this George Mason team. Without him, the Patriots lost to arguably the worst team in the conference. With him back in the lineup, Oduro helped lead the Patriots to victory over the Flyers, which was one of their biggest wins of the season.
On Monday against St. Joseph’s, Oduro scored 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting. He also corralled five rebounds and shot 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
He is one of the key reasons as to why George Mason ranks 29th in the country in effective field goal percentage (eFG%). Overall, Mason has drained 35.4% of their three-point attempts while converting 55.7% of their shot attempts from inside the arc, according to KenPom.
The Patriots can score both inside and out, hence why who wins the battle of the paint, will likely win the game.
“The game is won in the paint,” Schmidt said. “Trying to keep the ball above the foul line against these guys is going to be a great challenge, but that’s something that we are going to have to be decent at if we are going to win. Not only do they throw the ball inside, but they attack off the bounce. Oduro is a load and a lot of times he’s catching the ball ten feet off the block and backing guys in. We gotta do a good job of keeping the ball out of the paint, above the foul line, and [we have to try] to keep them to one shot as they do a good job on the offensive glass.”
One of the reasons why Mason has had success on the glass so far this season is because of Davonte Gaines, the 6-foot-7 junior from Buffalo, New York.
Gaines leads the team in rebounding, averaging 8.2 per game, and also shoots 48.9% from three-point range. The Tennessee transfer currently averages 10.8 PPG.
Aside from Oduro and Gaines, two other Patriots to watch out for are Devon Cooper and D’Shawn Schwartz.
Cooper, who transferred to Mason from Morehead State, has started all 16 games this season and averages 12.1 PPG. With that said, he has struggled as of late as he has combined to score just 12 points over the last two games.
Then there’s Schwartz, who’s a 6-foot-7 guard from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Before playing at Mason, Schwartz was a three-year starter at the University of Colorado. Last season, Schwartz scored 18 points in the NCAA Tournament while playing for Colorado, which helped his fifth-seeded Buffaloes blow out the Georgetown Hoyas.
This season, Schwartz is averaging 15.5 PPG and is shooting 35.5% from downtown. He’s a great compliment alongside Oduro.
Obviously, George Mason has a lot of turnover on the roster when compared to a season ago.
English, who is just 33 years old, is in his first year as the man in charge at George Mason. English played his college ball at Missouri and was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 2nd round of the 2012 NBA Draft. That’s right Bonnies fans, English was drafted 25 spots behind Andrew Nicholson in that year’s draft.
English has a great reputation. He is obviously very young, and because of that, he does a great job in connecting with his players. This is why numerous players in the transfer portal flocked to George Mason. Honestly, if Mason decided to go in a different direction with their coaching hire, they likely would not have been blessed with the likes of Gaines, Cooper, and Schwartz, who like English, are all in their first seasons with George Mason.
“The run really good stuff,” Schmidt said when asked about English’s coaching styles. “They push the ball in transition. They’re playing very well.”
“[Mason will throw] lots of balls into the post into Oduro,” Schmidt added. “They’re a really good offensive rebounding team. Gaines is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. Schwartz is a great player, averaging  points in the league. [Overall, Mason] is shooting the heck out of the basketball from three.”
In Friday night’s victory at Duquesne, St. Bonaventure big man Osun Osunniyi scored 21 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Undoubtedly, this was Osunniyi’s best game of the year.
But Duquesne is an under-sized team and the Dukes do not have Josh Oduro patrolling inside.
Because of that, it will be imperative that Adaway, Welch, and Holmes not only get to the paint on offense, but crash the glass defensively too. Osunniyi will need help and his fellow seniors will need to step up.
And I think they do.
If the Patriots had not played on Monday night, I would pick them to win. George Mason matches up well against the Bonnies on paper. But games are played on the hardwood, not on paper.
Since the Bonnies have had some extended rest, I like the Brown and White to win their second road game in a row. The “Iron-Man Five” has had a fews days to rest and recover. That, coupled with their experience, will lead them to a close victory in Northern Virginia in a game that will likely come down to free-throws.
St. Bonaventure 72, George Mason 70
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.