On Saturday, with just seconds remaining in the Robbins Center, Kyle Lofton, the Junior from Hillside, NJ, found himself dribbling at the top of the key with the score knotted at 66.
The Bonnies and the Spiders had battled all throughout until Lofton delivered the knockout punch with just seconds to spare:
What's a good way to start your Sunday?
— Bonnies Men's Basketball (@BonniesMBB) January 3, 2021
Lofton’s dagger lifted the Bonnies to a thrilling 69-66 victory over Richmond. The Spiders found themselves ranked as high as 19th in the AP Top 25 earlier in the season. This huge road victory has created some palpable buzz around St. Bonaventure as the Bonnies have emerged as a possible dark horse in the Atlantic 10. St. Bonaventure ranks 57th in the NCAA’s NET rating, a new system that the committee has developed to help select teams for the NCAA Tournament.
For a greater look at the big picture, look no further than the beautiful chart that my A10 Talk Colleague Michael Bergman (give him a follow @MLBergman_) puts together weekly for all of us to enjoy:
Atlantic 10 Bid Watch:
✅ Saint Louis (30) ➖1 9 Seed
✅ VCU (55) ➖1 Last 4 In
👀 Richmond (59) ➖6 First 4 Out
🙏 Dayton (68) ➖5
👀 Bona (71) ➕3
🙏 Davidson (76) ➖2
🙏 URI (77) ➕1
😴 Duquesne (89) ➖3 pic.twitter.com/YmPxq3Y6D1
— Michael Bergman (@MLBergman_) January 5, 2021
As one can see, the Bonnies vaulted up 3 spots as their win at Richmond qualifies as a “Quad 1 Victory” for Mark Schmidt’s club.
But Schmidt and company are ready to look past it and focus on one game at a time. Coach Schmidt said: “A good bounce back from our first road game against Rhode Island. Whatever happened in the Richmond Game is not going to help us when the ball goes up [tomorrow].”
“Can’t worry about what you did yesterday. After the Richmond game, we need to prepare for [the] St. Joe’s game. You can’t look ahead, you can’t look behind. Just take it day-by-day,” Coach added. “Once the game starts, it’s a whole new game.”
As Schmidt alluded to today, the Bonnies have to take things one step at a time. The Brown and White cannot get ahead of themselves and overlook struggling teams. St. Joesph’s serves as a perfect example, as the Hawks make the trek from Philly and visit the Reilly Center tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm.
Scouting St. Joseph’s
Quite frankly, St. Joseph’s has not been the same since Coach Phil Martelli was questionably asked to leave the program almost two years ago. The downward spiral has continued into this season as the Hawks find themselves winless with an 0-7 record. With that said, the Hawks are pesky and have played the second-toughest schedule in the country. They even took both Auburn and Rhode Island to overtime.
Lack of Offensive Efficiency
Per KenPom, St. Joe’s ranks first in the conference in 3-point field goal attempts and in overall field goal attempts from the floor. Thus, St. Joe’s shoots at will: Coach Schmidt even said that “[the Hawks] want to shoot the ball 50 times a game.” But they are a poor shooting team. The Hawks rank 10th in 3-point field goal percentage and 11th in 2-point field goal percentage. In conference play alone, they rank 12th in offensive efficiency at 88.7, well below the Division I average of 101.2.
Despite the team’s poor offensive efficiency, watch out for Taylor Funk, the Junior from Lancaster, PA. In St. Joseph’s two conference games thus far, Funk has taken almost 32% of the teams’ shots. He’s tied for 12th in the conference in averaging 16.4 PPG at this point. Schmidt applauded his efforts in saying today that Funk “[will] present problems as he likes to screen and pop [and] he really likes to shoot the ball.” Schmidt continued in saying that “[Funk] splits screens, he back cuts, [and] he is going to be a handful.”
But as the old saying goes, teams live and die by the three. We have seen inferior opponents light up the Reilly Center before, look no further than the Valentine’s Day drubbing that Davidson gave the Bonnies last season. As I discuss further below, the Bonnies will need to get back in transition to beat the Hawks.
Ryan Daly: The X-Factor, Will He Play?
Redshirt Senior Ryan Daly, perhaps the most intriguing player to watch in the conference, has not played since December 21 due to a thumb injury. In the five games that he has played in, he averaged 17.2 PPG. He even exploded for 30 in a close loss to Drexel on December 17.
Last season, if one may recall, Daly had one of the most improbable buzzer-beaters one will ever see. He led the conference in scoring last year at 20.6 PPG. Clearly, Daly is the leader of this team and he is a bonafide X-Factor. When he plays, St. Joseph’s runs through him. If he plays tomorrow, then the St. Bonaventure backcourt will have their hands full. As of Tuesday afternoon, his status remains questionable.
How Do the Bonnies Win?
The Bonnies have to do three things in order to pick up their second conference win of the season: (1) stay out of foul trouble, (2) defend the arc, and (3) have at least three double-digit scorers.
1. Stay Out of Foul Trouble
As I have said before and will say again, Junior Forward Osun Osunniyi is the most important player on this team. His presence on offense, defense, and on the glass is simply irreplaceable. Yes, Jaren Holmes suffered back spasms in the loss against Rhody. But Osunniyi played only 27 minutes against URI. He fouled out with 3:48 to go in the game with the Bonnies down 3. Fouls are controllable, injuries are not. That was a key moment in the lone Bonaventure loss thus far.
In the three St. Bonaventure victories, against Akron, Hofstra, and Richmond, Osunniyi has averaged 34.6 minutes per game. Simply, when he plays, he dominates. He had 25 points against Akron and corralled 13 rebounds against the Spiders. Osunniyi leads the team in rebounds per game and ranks 26th nationally at 8.0 RPG. Obviously, whenever he plays extended minutes, he has the potential to score 20 and snag ten or more boards.
Osunniyi is not the only culprit when it comes to foul trouble. Junior Guard Dominick Welch and Lofton each had four fouls against Richmond, which in turn restricted their minutes. Simply put, every Bonnie needs to limit their hacks.
2. Continue to Defend the Arc
Despite playing only two conference games thus far, St. Bonaventure ranks first in the conference in restricting its opponents to shooting 25% from three. Their transition defense has been superb and will need to show up again tomorrow.
In trying to defend St. Joe’s, Coach Schmidt said: “[The Hawks] play free and Coach [Lange] lets them go. So we need to get back in transition and try to keep the ball in front of us. If they beat us off the bounce, they’ll do a really good job of making the extra pass and getting the ball back outside. Transition defense is going to be key tomorrow.”
Look at the Richmond game, for instance. Both teams struggled from deep; the Bonnies had the fortune of having the ball last, which allowed them to prevail. St. Bonaventure made 5 of 18 from deep, good for 27.8%; while Richmond only made one more, shooting 6 of 24, equating to 25.0%. Sure, the discrepancy between these two figures is small. But St. Bonaventure’s perimeter defense is elite, which kept them in the Richmond game. If the Bonnies can get back in transition successfully once again against St. Joe’s and make a few threes of their own, they should win easily.
3. Have Three Double-Digit Scorers
The only game in which St. Bonaventure did not have three players score in double digits was in the 63-57 loss at Rhode Island. Sure, if Osun does not foul out or if Holmes plays, then the Bonnies probably win this game. But the past is uncontrollable. The Bonnies have tremendous depth, as the entire starting five is capable of scoring at will. Just look at Holmes, who four days after seeing only one minute at Rhody, scored 17 points at the Robbins Center, the second-highest mark of his career.
So with that said, Jaren Holmes returning and contributing proves huge for the Bonnies. He, along with Welch, Lofton, and Osunniyi can easily score 15 or more. Even guys like Jalen Adaway, who had 12 at URI, and Anthony Roberts, who averages 7.0 PPG off the bench, have the ability to hit double digits.
Ultimately, the Bonnies have tremendous depth and talent. It just comes down to keeping guys on the floor and sharing the wealth. Lofton does a tremendous job as a floor general as he leads the conference in assists at 6.0 APG. Hopefully, Lofton will continue to spread the ball around tomorrow against the Hawks.
The Bonnies are expected to be double-digit favorites against the Hawks. Of course, the biggest question mark is whether or not Ryan Daly suits up for St. Joe’s. Either way, I still feel that the Bonnies will prevail. I will go with an 18-point St. Bonaventure victory, 83 to 65.