ST BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – The St. Bonaventure Bonnies are 1-0.
It was not pretty to start, but Bona rallied past the Siena Saints to win 75-47.
Maybe the Bonnies felt nervous playing in front of an almost sold-out crowd, which was the first time they played in front of their home fans in 20 months. Or perhaps their minds were elsewhere since they slipped on their championship rings in the pregame ceremony.
Either way, Siena did not care. The Saints came out on fire and simply outplayed the #23rd ranked team at the onset.
At the 12:11 mark of the first half, Siena held an 18-8 lead. The Bona offense was stagnant, Senior guard Dom Welch had picked up two fouls, and the Saints could not miss from beyond the arc. The Bonnies did not look like the defending Atlantic 10 Champions.
But things began to settle down for the Bonnies in the Reilly Center.
Midway through the first half, Sophomore Karim Abdul Coulibaly, the southpaw who transferred to Bona from Pitt, made a put-back layup to cut the Siena deficit to 23-19. The former Panther would finish the game with 12 points, shooting a “cool” 6-7 from the floor. When Osun Osunniyi was out of the game, Coulibaly filled the void beautifully. He will be a terrific asset for Head Coach Mark Schmidt this season. He was one of the many reasons why the Bonnies dominated inside, as they ended up outscoring the Saints 44-14 in the paint.
After a shaky opening 19 minutes, the moment of the game came in the waning seconds of the first half. Senior guard Jaren Holmes made the team’s first three-pointer of the season to put the Bonnies up 36-32. His dagger from the left-wing sent the Reilly Center into a frenzy.
But just seconds later, at the other end, almost 90 feet away from where Holmes had just tickled the twine, Osunniyi recorded his fourth block of the half as he sent a Jackson Stormo shot attempt into the second row.
The home crowd roared in approval and the Bonnies had all of the momentum heading into the locker room.
After the break, the Bonnies showed why they had received so much preseason recognition.
Bona outscored Siena 39-15 over the final 20 minutes as their defense suffocated the Saints. Siena shot just 24% from the field in the second half.
Senior guard Kyle Lofton, who was named to the Wooden Award Watch List just hours before tip-off, took over the game to lead his Bonnies to a blowout victory.
He finished with 17 points and also recorded a game-high six assists. He certainly played like one of the best point guards in the country.
Holmes, who also finished with 17 points, complimented Lofton beautifully in the backcourt.
But despite winning the Franciscan Cup in blow-out fashion, the Bonnies do have some lingering concerns.
First and foremost is the health of Osun Osunniyi.
For the 22 minutes that Osunniyi was in the game, he was undoubtedly the best player on the floor. He finished with nine points, six rebounds, and seven blocks. He showcased some beautiful post moves on offense, and one of which ended with an old-fashioned three-point play. Defensively, he proved why he was the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year award a season ago.
But unfortunately for the South Jersey native, Osunniyi hit the deck hard and appeared to injure his lower back early in the second half. He sat on the bench with a heating pad during the game’s final minutes. One can only hope that this is just a stinger.
Another concern for Coach Schmidt is that the Bonnies need to do a better job from the free-throw line. Going 13 of 21 from the charity stripe will not cut it against a marquee opponent. For those counting at home, that equates to 61%.
And finally, Bona must continue to work on its three-point shooting. The Brown and White made just one three-pointer in the first half and made only four for the entire game. Welch made two of seven but started 0-4.
Holmes was the only other Bonnie to knock down a triple. He went 2-4 from downtown.
But at the end of the day, the Bonnies won by 28 points. They are 1-0 and that is all that counts.
Next up, the Brown and White will host Little Three rival Canisius on Sunday at 5 p.m.
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.