PHILADELPHIA – With 8:26 remaining in the second half, St. Bonaventure’s Osun Osunniyi fell hard to the floor, rolling his ankle in the process. He appeared to be in a lot of pain and did not re-enter the game, thus turning Bonaventure’s season for the worse.
St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt did not provide an update on his star center following the game.
Osunniyi, the reigning Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, recorded five blocks, scored six points, and grabbed seven rebounds in 27 minutes of game action.
When Osunniyi went down, St. Joseph’s held a one-point lead, 47-to-46.
The Hawks came into this game having lost five in a row. With St. Bonaventure’s most important player sidelined, the opportunity for an upset was there. After all, Osunniyi was the main reason why St. Joseph’s struggled scoring inside. Bona outscored the Hawks 30-to-10 in the paint.
But St. Bonaventure’s Jalen Adaway and Dominick Welch had other ideas, as they did not let their team’s six-game winning streak die on Hawk Hill.
Adaway, who finished with a team-high 14 points, scored the go-ahead basket on a beautiful backdoor alley-oop with 38 seconds remaining to put the Bonnies up one.
“It was a great college basketball game,” St. Joseph’s coach Billy Lange told the media afterward. “We make one mistake on the backdoor and that’s what happens. [The Bonnies] didn’t make the mistake and we did.”
On the ensuing possession, Welch drew a charge against St. Joseph’s Ejike Obinna with 11 seconds left.
“The biggest play of the game was Dom’s charge,” Schmidt said. “That was a huge play. Dom is always in the right position. He has a high IQ for the game. That’s a winning play right there.”
It was the game-defining play that ultimately led to Bonaventure prevailing, 54-to-52.
But the majority of the 2,356 attendees disagreed with the call, including Coach Lange.
“They call a block a charge when it’s a block,” Lange said during his post-game press conference. “That is a block. [Obinna] should have been on the free-throw line. Right, wrong, or indifferent, depending on how anxious the fans would have gotten, the bottom line is that was not the right call. This has happened to us a lot this season. Hard to not take it personally, but we just have to keep moving forward and try to respect [the officials.]”
The Bonnies dodged numerous bullets throughout this game, such as St. Joesph’s three-point shooting and that questionable call towards the end of regulation.
The Hawks converted on 11 three-pointers, whereas the Bonnies made just 2-of-18 from deep.
“I thought we defended [well], but we gave up too many threes to Funk,” Schmidt noted. “This time of year you win with defense. I have always said that it has to be the staple. Offense is fickle [and] jump-shooting is fickle. But defense and rebounding are the two [important] things and we did a really good job defending [on Saturday].”
The Bonnies are a defensive juggernaut when Osunniyi is in the game.
But his injury hurts this team, especially considering that March is right around the corner.
The Bonnies are still in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth. If they win one of their two remaining games, at VCU on Tuesday and home versus Richmond on Friday, then the Bonnies will secure a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. This is important because Bona would start play in the quarterfinals, and have to play just three games in three days to clinch the title as opposed to playing four games in four days.
With Osunniyi sidelined until further notice, securing a double-bye is imperative.
But they also have an outside chance at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
“The Bonnies are in the [NCAA Tournament] picture and gaining some ground,” said Rocco Miller, who is a bracketologist and a U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) member. “Here are the pros: wins over Boise State and Marquette have aged like fine wine. With VCU near the cutline, that win [on Jan. 14] stands out as a potential “win against the field” in the minds of the committee. But they are ranked 81st in the NET, and that’s an outlier for a non-power five school.”
But the only way they get on the right side of the bubble is if they take care of business this week.
“The committee begins their work on March 9,” Miller added. “By the time we get to the Atlantic 10 Semifinals, on March 12, pretty much all of the At-Large pecking order will be determined. So the key here [for Bonaventure] is their last two games at VCU, and versus Richmond. The needle is unlikely to move much in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals. Otherwise, a run to the Atlantic 10 Championship, which would secure an automatic bid, would put the Bonnies in a likely 11 or 12 seed and everyone at the Burton will be feeling tingly.”
Hence why Osunniyi’s injury is huge. Playing at VCU is no easy task, with or without Osunniyi.
Without him, the Bonnies are a different team as that defense is not as imposing.
His injury can potentially have major effects on the entire conference. It appears more and more likely that the Atlantic 10 will be just a one-bid league.
“The fact that [the Atlantic 10] is slated to only get one bid is challenging,” Lange said when asked about his Bonaventure’s postseason prospects. “I am hoping that one of these other teams steps up because it just sharpens our league. It helps everybody. It raises all boats. The [Bonnies] are experienced enough and if they do get to the NCAA Tournament, if they can do that, they can beat anybody because they have been there. They know what to do. They are a terrific basketball team.”
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.