ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — The St. Bonaventure Bonnies, the team with a completely new roster, the team that was picked to finish tenth in the preseason, knocked off the preseason favorite Dayton Flyers, 68-to-59. The sold-out Reilly Center crowd brought the energy on Saturday evening, fueling the Brown and White to their first home victory over Dayton since Jan. 11, 2012.
With Saturday’s win, Bona now has a conference record of 7-4, which puts them in a tie for third in the Atlantic 10.
Not a bad place to sit in the standings with a month left in the season.
Teams and fans should know never to doubt the Bonnies, especially since a special bond is growing among this young team.
On Saturday, Jan. 28, the night Bona knocked off VCU at the Siegel Center in Richmond, the Bonnies held a team meeting a couple of hours before the game.
“We talked about everything and what we needed to do,” said Moses Flowers, one of the team captains on this Bonaventure team. “We are just connected. We are all just so locked in. At that meeting, we talked about how we are all here together. We need to be our brother’s keepers and have each other’s backs. We are brothers. Our connectivity is there, and our camaraderie is there.”
“Our motto is to stay connected on and off the court,” added Chad Venning, grinning from ear to ear.
Bona has won three in a row since this meeting.
Considering nobody on this team knew each other a mere eight months ago, the bond on this team is quite special.
The Bonnies looked like brothers against the Flyers, as all five starters finished in double digits. Bona also finished the game with 15 team assists. They made 23 field goals.
Venning, the 6-foot-10 center from Brooklyn, New York, led the way with 17 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks.
For Bona to have a chance at knocking off Dayton, Venning needed to play well. He matched up against Dayton’s DaRon Holmes, one of the best centers in the country.
Although the Dayton big man finished with 21 points of his own, Venning kept delivering punch after punch to Holmes on the offensive end.
With 3:52 left in the first half, with the Bonnies up by a point, the Brooklynite slammed home a massive dunk as Holmes could only helplessly watch.
Moments later, Venning made a spectacular move to the rim, finishing an up-and-under reverse layup while Holmes defended him. That Shawn Kemp-like play electrified the student section.
The Bonnies paraded into the locker room with a 33-to-26 lead at the half. Most importantly, Venning finished the first half with no fouls. He also did a tremendous job defending Dayton’s pick-and-roll.
But Dayton started the second half strong.
During the first three minutes of the second half, Holmes and Toumani Camara combined to score a quick eight points. The Flyers would have held the lead if not for a Venning bucket during this stretch.
Thanks to Venning, the Bonnies entered the first media timeout of the second half with a 35-to-34 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Bona went inside to Venning, who was immediately double-teamed. He quickly found Yann Farell, who calmly knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing as the shot clock expired.
BIG BIG BIG bucket from Yann Farell. 🇬🇦🇬🇦
As the shot clock expires, no less.
He has played like a senior over the past week.
— Jack Milko (@jack_milko) February 5, 2023
Farell, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Gabon, finished with 11 points and drained a trio of treys. He has averaged 14.7 points per game (PPG) since Bonaventure’s team meeting.
This massive 3-pointer from Farell began a game-changing 19-6 run for the Bonnies that lasted 5:26.
During that stretch, Farell knocked down another 3-pointer, Kyrell Luc hit a couple of tough mid-range jumpers, and Venning worked wonders inside. All while Bona stymied the Dayton offense on the other end of the floor.
Luc finished with 13 points. He hit two massive 3-pointers in the game’s opening minutes, which helped set the tone at the Reilly Center.
Flowers also shot the ball well, as he finished with 13. He knocked down three 3-pointers, one coming with 7:48 to go that put the Bonnies up 59-to-46.
“Whenever I hit a 3-pointer and then heard the crowd roar, that made me feel good,” Flowers said. “We fed off it. It gives our team energy, and we all look at each other like ‘good play’ or ‘good shot.”
At that moment, everybody in the building knew that the Bonnies would finish the job. A sea of jubilation poured out of the Bonaventure fans.
“The Reilly Center is amazing,” Venning said in the post-game press conference. “Especially when it’s at capacity, it was nothing like I have ever seen. We fed off it.”
Venning went 8-for-9 from the floor Saturday. He brought his ‘A-game’ to primetime.
As did Daryl Banks III, despite not scoring a point until midway through the second half.
“He does not let his shooting affect other parts of his game,” Coach Mark Schmidt said when discussing Banks III. “He gives our guys confidence, and he’s a really good player. We need him to play the way he is capable of playing. His shot will come back, but as I always say, jump shots are fickle. The overall game is there.”
Banks III, Bona’s leading scorer on the season, finished with a dozen. He shot 2-of-10 from the floor and made only one 3-pointer, quite the oddity considering he has lit up the Reilly Center this season. Yet, he made seven free throws down the stretch.
He also dished out five assists while committing only one turnover.
On the opposite end, Banks III was everywhere.
Dayton’s Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith, the Flyer guards, combined to score only 11 points. Banks III’s defensive efforts were a big part of that. The Flyers also shot 4-of-20 from 3-point range, as Banks III stymied Dayton all game.
( psst look behind you ) pic.twitter.com/dhe5uioyFv
— Bonnies Men's Basketball (@BonniesMBB) February 5, 2023
Dayton entered Saturday’s game as the Atlantic 10’s best 3-point shooting team.
They did not shoot like it on Bob Lanier Court.
Bonaventure’s perimeter defense allows their opponents to make just 27.6% of their attempts from beyond the arc, a mark that now ranks sixth nationally, per KenPom.
Which is what Schmidt is most proud of.
“Our effort. We are really competing. We are defending,” Schmidt said when asked what he has liked about his team lately. “We have done a good job executing for the most part. We screw up sometimes, but over the last three games, we have done a good of getting the ball inside to Venning. He’s done a great job of finishing and kicking the ball out. But we have won these games because of our defense. You win with defense, especially since we are not a great offensive team. We try to control the tempo as much as possible, but it’s our defense.”
Defense wins championships, and with the budding camaraderie among this group, anything can happen for this Bonaventure team over the next month.
Look at the last three games, a stretch many dubbed as the most difficult slate of games the Bonnies would face all year.
The Bonnies went 3-0, and now they turn their attention to the La Salle Explorers, who will visit the Reilly Center Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Not before the Bona students and fans celebrate Saturday’s victory at the bar, of course.
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.