PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Coming off a tough loss at Dayton, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (10-4, 2-1 Conf.) will play their second road game of the week on Friday night at 7:00 p.m.
Bona will take on the Duquesne Dukes (6-9, 1-2 Conf.) at the newly renovated UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh.
The game will air nationally on ESPN2.
Despite Tuesday’s 18-point setback, senior guard Jaren Holmes is remaining confident in himself and his team.
“We’re very confident,” Holmes told the media on Thursday. “You’re going to miss shots and it’s not going to be your night sometimes. Sometimes, the basket is going to be like an ocean. Sometimes, it’s going to be tighter than a cup. [I’m] not going to change my work process or how I prepare for each game. [I’m] just going to do the same thing that I do before each and every game and try to keep that same rhythm.”
We shall see if Holmes and the Bonnies can find that “rhythm” on Friday night against the Dukes.
Scouting the Duquesne Dukes
A year ago, the Bonnies defeated Duquesne twice during the regular season and once more in the 2021 Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals. It was the first time that Bona defeated Duquesne three times during the same season. In fact, the Brown and White have won ten of their last 11 versus the Dukes dating back to 2016.
“This is a big rivalry game for us,” Holmes said. “Duquesne is a very important game.”
You would think that the Bonnies would be very familiar with their biggest rival in the conference, especially considering that these two teams played each other three times just a season ago.
But that is not the case.
The Dukes have a completely new roster.
“They’ve got a whole new team,” St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt noted. “I really do not know any of those guys. [Tyson] Acuff played a little bit [last year], but all the other guys are new guys.”
Even though they have a lot of new faces, which includes three transfers and two freshman in the starting lineup, this Duquesne team plays hard for their head coach, Keith Dambrot.
“[Duquesne] is playing very similarly to how they played last year,” Schmidt added. “[They will] throw the ball in the post. They have really good guards who are really explosive and can shoot it. Williams inside is a load. [The Dukes] are a very good team. They’re all new so they’re still learning the system but they are very talented and it will be a hard game for us on the road.”
The player that Schmidt alluded to, Tre Williams, is a 6-foot-7, 250 pound sophomore from Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
Williams, who started his career at Indiana State, currently averages 10.6 points per game (PPG) and 6.4 rebounds per contest. He has scored in double-figures in every game this season except for five. Over his last two games, which were two losses to Dayton and Fordham, Williams scored a dozen points in each.
Earlier this season, Williams had two games in which he recorded seven blocks. He is solid defensively inside. It will be interesting to watch him go to work against St. Bonaventure’s Osun Osunniyi, who’s obviously one of the premier forwards of the mighty Atlantic 10 conference.
Another Duquesne transfer to watch out for is Kevin Easley, Jr., who played for both Chattanooga and TCU before ending up in Pittsburgh. Currently, Easley averages 12.1 PPG and leads the team in rebounding by corralling 6.5 per game. He has also drained 40% of his three-point attempts so far this season. Standing at 6-foot-7 and hailing from Indianapolis, Easley has scored in double-figures in 13 of 15 games this season, which leads the team.
Then there’s Duquesne’s leading scorer, Leon Ayers III, who began his playing career at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Ayers averages 12.5 PPG and has the potential to erupt for 20 or more on any given night. Against UC Irvine, back on Dec. 19, Ayers dropped 24 points on the Anteaters.
In all, the Dukes have five players who average 9.0 PPG or more. Obviously, Williams, Easley and Ayers are three of those five. But the other two are freshman guards Amir Spears and Jackie Johnson III.
Spears, who averages 12.3 PPG, has seen at least 30 minutes of action in each one of Duquesne’s three conference games. In the win over UMASS, Spears scored 21 points. In the following game, at Fordham, the Hartford, Connecticut native had 20. Needless to say, Spears has the potential to become a special player in this conference down the road.
Johnson exploded for 27 points at UMASS and is shooting 42.9% from beyond the arc. He too has potential.
But where the Dukes are lacking is on the defensive side of the ball. They are currently 217th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Perhaps Duquesne’s most glaring issue defensively lies in their perimeter defense. The Dukes have allowed their opponents to make 37.2% of their three-point attempts, which ranks 329th in the country.
Outside of the second half against Clemson, Bona has struggled to sustain any success from downtown. They currently rank 240th in the nation in three-point shooting, making just 32.1% of their attempts, per KenPom. As such, the Brown and White will have a chance to find their stroke against a weaker Duquesne defense on Friday. Perhaps Kyle Lofton or Dominick Welch can find their strokes from distance.
Despite their lack of defensive prowess, Duquesne does a great job in staying out of foul trouble. Similar to the Bonnies, the Dukes do not give up many trips to the free throw line, as they rank 21st in the nation in that regard, per KenPom.
Because of this, the Bonnies will need to be even more aggressive in Pittsburgh on Friday.
“The better you execute, the better chance you will have to draw fouls and that’s what we are going to try and do,” Schmidt remarked when asked about the importance of getting to the free-throw line. “The better you execute, the more you create fouls offensively, and stay away from fouls defensively. That’s our goal is to go out there and execute better. Hopefully we have the ball drop a little bit. If we do that, then we can have a successful game.”
The Bonnies come to Pittsburgh playing their third game in seven days whereas Duquesne has been off since last Saturday.
Considering the Bonnies rank dead last in the country in bench minutes, the overall stamina of the “Iron Man Five” of Lofton, Welch, Holmes, Adaway, and Osunniyi will be something to monitor on Friday night.
But the preseason favorites are frustrated after Tuesday’s offensive dud at Dayton and this team knows that Friday’s game is a big one. After all, the Bonnies cannot afford to begin conference play with a 2-2 record.
With that in mind, I like the Bonnies to right the ship in Pittsburgh. I also envision Osunniyi having a big game offensively against the smaller Duquesne front-court. After all, ‘Shoon is due for a big-time double-double.
St. Bonaventure 71, Duquesne 64
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.