This past Saturday, December 12, a positive Covid-19 test within the St. Francis (PA) basketball team forced St. Bonaventure and the Red Flash to cancel the game, which would have been the season opener for Head Coach Mark Schmidt and company.
Thus, the Brown & White faithful were forced to wait another 72 hours for the season opener.
Thankfully, it was worth the wait.
This afternoon, at the Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland, St. Bonaventure zipped past Akron by a score of 81-74. Junior guard Kyle Lofton scored the first basket of the game just 19 seconds in, and the Bonnies never looked back. At one point, the Bona lead swelled to 17, but the Zips kept hanging around to make things somewhat interesting down the stretch.
The Bonnies had three players finish in double figures: Junior Forward Osun Osunniyi led the way with 25, Junior Guard Dominick Welch had 18, and Lofton added 17 of his own.
Needless to say, this is an impressive opening win for St. Bonaventure. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Akron won 22 games last season and would test the Brown and White. Today, the Bonnies passed their first exam of the 2020-21 season with flying colors.
With today’s win over Akron, St. Bonaventure snaps a three game losing streak in season openers. The Bonnies lost to Niagara to open up the 2017-18 season, to Bucknell in the 2018-19 season, and to the Ohio Bobcats just a season ago.
Player of the Game
The big-man from Pleasantville, NJ had a very pleasant start to the 2020-21 season. Osunniyi tallied 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting from the field and he corralled eight rebounds. He also dished out three assists. Perhaps most importantly, Osun stayed out of foul trouble as he committed only three infractions.
The most important stretch of the game began with 5:41 remaining. At this point, Bonaventure led 62-52, but Akron was hanging around and keeping things interesting. When you let teams hang around, the potential for disaster looms large.
On this particular possession, Osun received a beautiful pass down on the left block, made a move towards the basket, and finished a terrific up-and-under reverse layup with his right hand to put Bona up by a dozen. After an Akron miss, Osun was fouled on the floor by Jermaine Marshall, which put him at the free throw line. A 62.5% career free-throw shooter, Osun calmly hit both from the charity stripe to put Bona up by 14.
Although this mini four point spurt seemed insignificant, it completely shut the door on any possibility of an Akron rally before the final media timeout. The game never seemed in doubt from this point on.
As evidenced by advanced statistics, Osun Osunniyi was the most important player on the floor tonight. Osun’s Points Per Minute was 0.694, the highest mark on the team. Furthermore, his Efficiency Rating was 29.0, which led the game. (Note: Efficiency = ( (Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) – (Field Goals Attempted – Field Goals Made) + (Free Throws Attempted – Field Goals Made) + Turnovers)
Advanced metrics aside, a season ago, St. Bonaventure won only one game while Osun nursed an ankle injury during non-conference play. Rather ironically, that lone victory came against Rutgers, which was arguably Bonaventure’s best win of the 2019-20 season. The Bonnies need him to play every game.
Simply put, his presence was extremely valuable today and will continue to be going forward.
Ultimately, if the Bonnies want to compete for the conference title, not only does Osunniyi have to stay healthy, but he has to limit his hacks and remain on the floor. Today serves as a small sample size, but the last two seasons support this notion as well.
Three Point Shooting
St. Bonaventure could not hit the broad side of a barn from beyond the arc. The Bonnies shot an abysmal 7.1% from three, with the lone long ball coming from Welch in the first half.
Two reasons may explain as to why St. Bonaventure shot so poorly from deep: first, the Bonnies have not played a game since March, so they may have some rust to shake off. Secondly, the depth perception inside the Rocket Mortgage Field House threw the players off. After spending months shooting around in the Reilly Center, having to transition to the depth perception of an NBA arena is no easy task. Even Akron struggled from beyond the arc as the Zips shot a poor 6 of 32 from deep.
If Bona shot a respectable figure from downtown today, they would have won by 30. Thankfully, St. Bonaventure’s dominance down low picked up for their lack of range. The Bonnies outscored Akron in the paint, 56 to 36. Nonetheless, the Bonnies need to improve upon their three point shooting going forward.
A season ago, they shot 34.1% from Three, slightly better than the Division I average according to KenPom. They need to, at the very least, replicate this figure if they want to go dancing in March.
The Bonnies return to the Reilly Center to host the Hofstra Pride at 2pm on Saturday on ESPN+. Hofstra was picked first in the CAA Preseason Conference Poll: another tough test for this Junior heavy Bonaventure squad.
If the Bonnies want to beat Hofstra, they have to continue to have success in the paint and shoot better from downtown. And, most importantly, Osun has to remain out of foul trouble.