ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – The St. Bonaventure Bonnies defeated VCU, Richmond, and Dayton, then lost to La Salle, Duquesne, and Fordham. Three up, three down. No, it’s not the end of an inning; plenty of at-bats for the Bonnies remain. But this is the reality of a young team fighting for survival in a competitive Atlantic 10.
The Bonnies have a conference record of 7-7 with four games left. They’re tied with St. Joseph’s and George Mason while sitting a half-game behind Fran Dunphy’s Explorers.
George Washington sits a half-game back at 6-7.
Yet, the Bonnies can only focus on their next game: a Sunday matinee with George Washington at the Reilly Center.
The Colonials and the Bonnies tip off at 2:00 p.m. The game will air on USA Network.
“The only challenge for us right now is George Washington on Sunday afternoon,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt, whose Bonnies are looking to avoid their second four-game losing streak of the season against the Colonials. “That’s all we are looking at. We can’t look ahead, nor can we look back. We must do our best to prepare for a good George Washington team. It’s alumni weekend. We will have a great crowd, but that crowd will not help us if we don’t play well.”
The Colonials limp into the Reilly Center with just eight scholarship players, as they have lost four players to injuries for the remainder of the season.
Hence, George Washington has lost five of their last seven since beating Dayton Jan. 21. Both of their wins during this stretch came in overtime, as the Colonials clipped St. Joseph’s 92-to-91 four nights after beating the Flyers.
They beat Richmond in double overtime 107-to-105 on Feb. 8.
Nonetheless, the Colonials lead the league in scoring, averaging 75.3 points per game (PPG). This team flies up and down the floor, always looking to get into transition. They average just 17.2 seconds per possession, according to KenPom.
George Washington has an outstanding backcourt, which fuels the fast pace of this team.
James Bishop IV, a 6-foot-2 senior from Baltimore, Maryland, averages 21 PPG. He originally began his career at LSU, but following the 2019-20 season, he transferred back to a school closer to home. Over the past three seasons in Foggy Bottom, Bishop IV has started every game but one while averaging almost 19.0 PPG, which leads the conference over that span.
He can flat-out score from anywhere on the floor, although he shoots just 28.8% from beyond the arc.
Yet, Bishop IV struggled to score against the Bonnies the last time these two teams played.
Due to COVID-19, St. Bonaventure and George Washington have only played once in the past two seasons. Bishop scored just six points on Feb. 26, 2021, when Bona drubbed the Colonials 88-to-41 in an empty Reilly Center.
Alongside Bishop IV in the backcourt stands Brendan Adams, a 6-foot-4 senior from Baltimore, Maryland, who averages 17.2 PPG.
This electrifying Baltimore backcourt is one of the best in the Atlantic 10.
“James Bishop IV is the guy,” said Daniel Frank, who covers both George Mason and George Washington for A10 Talk. “Brandon Adams is the Robin to Bishop IV’s Batman.”
Last season, Bishop IV and Adams averaged 34.2 and 34.0 minutes per game. But due to George Washington’s current roster situation, both guards play over 37 minutes per night.
And since this team plays frenetically, the Colonials get tired down the stretch.
It does not help that first-year coach Chris Caputo employs just a six-man rotation because of the injuries sustained.
“There’s been many games where George Washington has had a total of two bench points. It’s that bad,” Frank added. “The common theme in the losing stretch is fatigue, no question about it. The coaching staff has struggled to keep guys fresh since most guys are playing 32-to-38 minutes a night. Caputo has done a brilliant job overall in year one and has the Colonials back on the right track for the first time since 2017, but playing six guys was never going to be sustainable this year.”
Things feel different in Foggy Bottom this season, especially since this team can score at will against anybody in the league. After all, George Washington started conference play with a 5-2 record before the injury bug hit them.
“They play fast, and there are a lot of possessions in the game,” Schmidt said. “That’s why they’re scoring a lot of points but also giving up a lot of points. Our job is to try and keep them in the half-court. They’re really good in the open court with good skilled players. This game can’t be in the eighties. If it’s in the eighties, we will be in a lot of trouble.”
Bona will need to slow down this George Washington team, or else the sold-out Reilly Center will moan with displeasure instead of roar with joy.
During this three-game losing streak, Bona has struggled to defend the perimeter, stay out of foul trouble, and take care of the basketball.
Against La Salle and Fordham, the Explorers and the Rams combined to make 19 3-pointers.
Then at Duquesne, the Bonnies turned it over a preposterous 25 times.
Bona committed 24 fouls this past Wednesday in the Bronx, with star Center Chad Venning fouling out with more than seven minutes left.
Venning, who scored 15 against Fordham, currently averages 12.1 PPG. The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Brooklyn, New York native has had a terrific year for the Bonnies as he’s the most important player on this team.
When he’s in the game, St. Bonaventure is a different team.
But when he racks up fouls and is relegated to the bench, Bona struggles to find a groove on both ends of the floor.
Venning’s post-moves inside are reminiscent of Andrew Nicholson’s, as he has developed a hook shot from both low blocks. He can finish with either hand. He is also working on his mid-range jumper, similar to what Nicholson improved upon as his career progressed.
Venning still has a long way to go before drawing serious comparisons to the greatest Bonnie of the 21st century, but similarities exist between the two big men.
Nonetheless, Venning has the potential to be a special player because of his footwork. He’s so nimble on his feet, spins inside with ease, and can finish in many ways, thanks to his athleticism.
While growing up in New York City, Venning played tons of pickup basketball on the Big Apple’s famous courts. But he also trained to box, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps into a boxing ring someday.
“It helped my footwork,” Venning told St. Bonaventure’s Scott Eddy this past summer. “All my career, even before I knew how to put the ball in the hoop, everyone always told me I had good footwork. In boxing, footwork is everything, which many people don’t understand. So I was already coordinated, and once I learned how to translate that into basketball, it made me a lot better as a player.”
Venning has had a breakout season for the Bonnies, and he will need to break out again against George Washington—a team that does not have much size inside.
Yet, the Bonaventure backcourt of Banks III, Flowers, and Kyrell Luc will need to stymie the Colonials and slow them down.
Banks III, who leads the team in scoring at 15.1 PPG, did not record a field goal at Fordham as the Rams double-teamed him all game. However, the Somerset, New Jersey native loves playing at the Reilly Center, where he has averaged 19.0 PPG and shot over 42% from 3-point range this season.
He will need to find his shot on Sunday for the Bonnies to get back in the win column.
So does Yann Farell, the freshman phenom from Gabon who has the distinction of being Bonaventure’s first four-star recruit in program history.
Farell was the only Bonnie to drain a 3-pointer at Fordham, as he made two treys in the 78-to-63 setback.
But Farell does much more than shoot from the perimeter. He plays excellent defense, like Banks III, and leads the team in rebounding, averaging 6.3 per game.
Nonetheless, defense will be the key against the Colonials. The backcourt needs to take care of the ball to avoid transition buckets the other way. They also need to lock down the perimeter, and the big guys, Venning and Farell, must stay out of foul trouble.
“We must stop them and keep them in the half-court,” Schmidt said. “They’re really good. We need to play a good defensive game to win.”
A Word on Richmond Coach Chris Mooney
On Friday, the University of Richmond announced that Chris Mooney, the longest-tenured coach in the Atlantic 10, will miss the rest of the regular season with a heart issue. According to John O’Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he will have an aneurysm in his ascending aorta removed next week.
I hope everyone can join me in sending their best wishes and prayers to Mooney and his family.
He is a gentleman and one of the more beloved college basketball coaches. Everyone who has met him only has positive things to say.
I had the pleasure of experiencing this first-hand at Atlantic 10 media day this past October.
Mooney graciously spoke with me for ten minutes. He answered every question I had about his Spiders. I also asked him about the transfer portal as well as name, image, and likeness (NIL) and how each has impacted collegiate athletics. He was happy to help out a graduate student and respectful of the work I was doing.
Get well soon, Coach. Like all of us, I look forward to the day you are back on the sidelines.
Since defeating Dayton on Jan. 21, George Washington has played five games that concluded in regulation.
Despite leading the league in scoring, the Colonials failed to score more than 70 points in each of those five games, all double-digit losses.
Caputo’s team has struggled as of late due to fatigue. His Colonials most recently lost to George Mason 66-to-53 on Feb. 15.
I see the Colonials losing once again at the Reilly Center as the Bonnies return to their winning ways in front of a jubilant homecoming crowd.
Bona does a good job in slowing down the George Washington offense, as Venning and Banks III lead the Brown and White to their first victory since Feb. 4.
St. Bonaventure 71, George Washington 64
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, and photographer for A10 Talk.