ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – After back-to-back heartbreakers, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies return home to face the Bowling Green Falcons in a mid-November matinee at the Reilly Center.
Saturday’s game tips off at 2 p.m., and the game will air on ESPN+.
With Justin Ndjock-Tadjoure’s departure from the program due to personal reasons, the Bonnies officially have zero points returning from a season ago. Bona has not won since this announcement last Saturday.
The 2022-23 Bonnies are young and inexperienced, but that does not mean they are deprived of talent.
“We are going to have our growing pains,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt told the media on Friday. “We had some chances at both Canisius and at South Dakota State. We had some chances to win, but the other teams made more plays than we did. But the more they are in those situations, the more experience they get, and the better they will become. Unfortunately, we did not capitalize, but hopefully, those situations help us down the road.”
Yann Farell and Barry Evans, two of Bonaventure’s freshmen, have significantly impacted the Brown and White thus far.
In Tuesday’s gut-wrenching loss in the Badlands, Farell scored 16 points and corralled 11 rebounds–his first collegiate double-double. The Libreville, Gabon native also drained four 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, Evans, who stands at 6-foot-8, has averaged 9.0 points per game (PPG) and 5.0 rebounds per contest thus far.
“They are going to be good players,” Schmidt said of Farell and Evans. “They are talented kids and picking up the system decently. They have a long way to go regarding strength and skill development, but they’re a bright spot. They will have their ups and downs, but they’ll get better and better with more experience. We [as a staff] are happy with them. But right now, they don’t have much experience, yet they are doing well. We need them to improve, but they have bright futures.”
Both have started all three games thus far. They will likely get the starting nod again versus Bowling Green on Saturday.
Kyrell Luc, Daryl Banks III, and Anouar Mellouk will round out the starting lineup for the Bonnies, who play in the Reilly Center on a weekend for the first time this season.
Luc, who erupted for 23 points in the season opener, struggled with his shot against Canisius and South Dakota State. Yet, he impacted both games in other ways. He recorded nine assists in Buffalo. Then he had six steals against the Jackrabbits.
Banks, the former St. Peter’s Peacock, has yet to find his groove as a Bonnie. Although he leads the team in minutes played, averaging 39.6 per contest, Banks has made just 30.4% of his attempts from the field thus far. Yet, the New Jerseyan still averages 16.7 PPG. He can catch fire from beyond the arc quickly. And when he does, watch out. Just ask John Calipari.
Then there’s Mellouk, the Dunkin’ Dutchman, who continues to have a presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Against Canisius, the Amsterdammer scored 13 points and went 6-of-9 from the field. The 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman uses his length to disrupt his opponents defensively too.
But Mellouk, like many other Bonnies this season, has succumbed to foul trouble at times. At South Dakota State, Mellouk saw just ten minutes of action and still fouled out. Not all of these whistles were warranted, but some were the right calls. Either way, a young team struggles with foul trouble, especially early in the season.
“We just got to play,” Schmidt said when I asked him about foul trouble during Friday’s press conference. “We deserved some calls, but then there were some tough calls. We just gotta play and play within the rules. Sometimes you get caught, and sometimes you don’t. You have to play as legally as possible. But our style of play is not going to change. We have to play the same way. Sometimes you don’t get a great whistle on the road, but that’s how college basketball is. We have to play through that stuff and play without fouling, try to play legally, and hopefully, we can do a better job Saturday.”
Against Bowling Green, no matter who officiates, Bona will still need to play solid defense and not get too aggressive. Their aggressiveness has led to numerous fouls called against them, which explains why Bona has racked up 67 fouls through three games.
Yet Schmidt does not want to see many changes on that side of the ball.
“Sometimes we are gambling too much,” Schmidt said when discussing his team’s defense. “We have good hands. Some guys can guard, but we have to get better. We had a lot of steals and forced 25 turnovers [versus South Dakota State], but we gambled a little bit too much. We must become a bit more solid, committed in the half-court, and protect the paint. I think that’s with youth; you get a little bit excited and try to go for steals when you shouldn’t. We have to pick our spots, but some possessions are really good. Then there are some possessions where we look like we didn’t practice. It’s just consistency and guys understanding what they need to do. It’s all about fundamentals and keeping those fundamentals solid when you get a little tired.”
The Bona defense will have their hands full against a Bowling Green team that averages 73.3 PPG and loves to run the floor.
The Falcons have multiple double-digit scorers, one of whom is Leon Ayers III, who transferred to Bowling Green from Duquesne. Ayers, the 6-foot-5 guard from Troy, Michigan, has scored 26 and 22 points over the last two games, respectively.
The Falcons won at Oakland University 87-to-82 and then followed that up with a loss at Wright State 80-to-71. Bowling Green defeated Air Force in its season opener.
“As a coaching staff, we are familiar with him, but our guys have no idea who he is,” Schmidt said of the former Duquesne Duke. “We stopped him last year, but we had five seniors doing it. He’s talented. He can shoot threes and take you off the bounce. He’s playing well with a lot of confidence. With guys like that, you have to make them earn their points. He will get his buckets, but you have to ensure he does not get any easy ones.”
Ayers currently averages 21.3 PPG. Ironically enough, in those matchups that Schmidt alluded to from a season ago, he scored a combined 21 points in the two Bonaventure victories over the Dukes.
Obviously, Schmidt has a whole new team. But he knows his game. Watching how Bona defends Ayers will be the game within the game.
Samari Curtis, who averages 14.0 PPG, plays the most minutes for this Bowling Green team. He bounced from Nebraska to Evansville before settling down at Bowling Green before the 2021-22 season, a season in which he started 24 games. Curtis, a native of Xenia, Ohio, stands at 6-foot-4 and shoots 38.4% from the field. Schmidt described him as “strong.” Yet, “strong” may not be the best way to describe his 3-point shooting, as Curtis has made just 31.9% from deep during his Bowling Green career.
Overall, the Bowling Green Falcons can score in bunches but struggle defensively. The Falcons have allowed their opponents to make 58.1% of their attempts from inside the arc, which ranks 326th in the country, per KenPom. Plus, Bowling Green’s defensive efficiency ranks 305th in the nation according to KenPom.
As with most games, Bona must exploit Bowling Green’s defensive deficiencies and get the ball to the paint. That’s the key to improving their record and getting back to .500 on the season.
During halftime of this matinee, the St. Bonaventure Athletic Department will honor the late Bill Kenville ’53. As a Bonnie, Kenville led the Brown and White to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1951 and 1952.
In the 1952 NIT, he helped lead Bona all the way to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden. (I wrote about one family’s connection to that tournament run last March).
That season, Bona lost to Dayton in the semifinal, while La Salle defeated Duquesne in the other semifinal. Tom Gola’s Explorers went on to claim the 1952 NIT Championship. The mighty Atlantic 10 conference shined at the Garden 23 years before its inception.
Although Kenville did not experience glory at the Garden that March, he remains the only Bonnie to this day to win a championship in the NBA. A native of Elmhurst, New York, Kenville, a 6-foot-2 guard, helped the Syracuse Nationals win the 1955 NBA Championship. He also played for the Fort Wayne/Detroit Pistons from 1956-1960.
He was inducted into the St. Bonaventure Hall of Fame in 1971.
With thanksgiving break right around the corner, students will pack the Reilly Center to loudly cheer on their Bonnies before heading home.
After two challenging road games, one of which had a foul discrepancy of 26-to-10 go against the Bonnies, these young Bona players need positive reinforcement from their fellow students and fans.
The Falcons have struggled to defend the paint, and Bona has done a decent job in scoring inside through its first three games.
I like the Bonnies to return to .500 on Saturday, riding on the momentum from the home crowd. Barry Evans will throw down a dunk or two to ignite the Reilly Center faithful.
St. Bonaventure 69, Bowling Green 61
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.