For the second time in eight days, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (7-1, 5-1 Conf.) take on the Duquesne Dukes (4-5, 3-4 Conf.) tomorrow night at 7pm on ESPN+. Instead of playing at Duquesne, the Dukes will host the Bonnies at La Roche University, a Division III school located 20 minutes north of downtown Pittsburgh. This circumstance is due to ongoing renovations to Duquesne’s facilities.
This past Wednesday, both the Bonnies and the Dukes had marvelous come from behind victories.
At the Reilly Center, St. Bonaventure faced a 40-25 deficit at halftime against VCU. Then the Bonnies surged past the Rams, outscoring VCU 45-14 in the closing half only to find themselves in first place in the conference.
Meanwhile, at the Kerr Fitness Center, home of the LaRoche Red Hawks, Duquesne faced a 44-31 deficit to the Rhode Island Rams at halftime. Then, like the Bonnies, the Dukes stormed back to defeat Rhode Island 71-69. Of course, the Rams are the only team to defeat the Bonnies thus far.
Scouting the Duquesne Dukes
Last week, the Bonnies and the Dukes played a sluggish game that resulted in a 62-48 Bona victory. Although the Bonnies ended up winning by 14, the game was a lot closer than the score indicated. With just 9:13 to play, the Bonnies held a 43-42 lead. From there, Bona closed things out with a 19-6 run, which secured their fourth consecutive victory.
Nonetheless, the Dukes feel that they can beat the Bonnies. They ran out of gas last week in Olean, but the Dukes hope that they can keep the pedal to the metal for the whole 40 minutes in Pittsburgh tomorrow.
Solid Defensive Team
Similar to the Bonnies, Duquesne is a terrific defensive team. The Dukes rank in the KenPom Top 100 in Defensive Efficiency. Last week, the Dukes held Bona to 36.4% shooting from the field. Moreover, Bona drained only two attempts from beyond the arc, both of which were from Alejandro Vasquez, the Sophomore Guard from Queens who has taken on the role of Bona’s Sixth Man.
Furthermore, Duquesne out rebounded the Bonnies 39-37 last week. Typically, this is the key to victory. But, Bona guard Kyle Lofton had other ideas. If not for his heroics in pouring in 28 points, then Duquesne may have emerged victorious.
Duquesne Coach Keith Dambrot has some terrific post presence down low in Michael Hughes and Marcus Weathers. Both of these players are the focal points in Duquesne’s solid defense. Hughes leads the team in averaging 6.8 rebounds per game while Weathers does not sit far behind him in averaging 6.4 boards per contest.
Watch Out for Dunn-Martin
Last Friday night in Olean, Tavian Dunn-Martin, the Duquesne point guard who stands at 5’8″, had an off-night in shooting two for ten from the field. He finished with only six points.
As I referenced last week, Dunn-Martin exploded for 25 points the last time these two teams played in the Steel City. On Wednesday against Rhode Island, Dunn-Martin scored only nine while attempting only five shots. He ranks second on the team in scoring at 10.6 PPG. Needless to say, I think the Duquesne Floor General is due for a big game. He is a microwave, in that he can heat up quickly from deep. The Bonnies need to keep tabs on him, just like they did last week.
If he does not put up a lot of points, he is certainly capable of creating opportunities as he leads the team in assists. Last week, Dunn-Martin tallied seven assists against the Bonnies.
A New Contributor?
Michael Hughes finished with a double-double against Rhode Island with 15 points and ten rebounds. But the game ball likely went to Chad Baker, the freshman from the Dominican Republic. Baker drained five three’s from deep to help the Dukes storm back against Rhody as he finished with a game-high 19 points.
Before Wednesday, Baker had yet to score more than ten points in a game. He is a terrific shooter and surely Coach Dambrot will draw up some plays to try and get the freshman more open looks. We shall see if his hot hands continues tomorrow night against St. Bonaventure.
How Do the Bonnies Beat the Dukes Again?
The Bonnies are hot. Following the comeback victory against VCU, St. Bonaventure has received national attention as they have now won five games in a row. Even some bracketologists has Bona dancing their way to Indianapolis. But, as St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt has reiterated time and time again, the Bonnies will only focus on their next opponent. Thus, Bona’s focus is solely on Duquesne as the Bonnies are eager to beat their rival for the second time in eight days.
In order to beat Duquesne once again, the Bonnies need to (1) continue to play stout defense, (2) shoot better than 40%, and (3) Osun Osunniyi needs to play a complete 40 minutes.
Defense! Defense! Defense!
St. Bonaventure has the best defense in the mighty Atlantic 10 Conference. Not only does Bona lead the league in giving up just 60 points per game, but they also rank first in Defensive Efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The image below showcases how well the Bonnies have played defensively so far this season.
As one can see in the image above, Bona ranks in the top four in every defensive category but two. If the winning streak wants to continue, Bona must continue to play terrific defense. In order to do that, the Bonnies will need to match Duquesne’s toughness inside and not foul. Bona also needs to continue to get back in transition. Of course, to do that, Bona must limit its turnovers and ill-advised shots, both of which came in bunches in the first half against VCU on Wednesday night.
Shoot Better than 40%
As I mentioned above, St. Bonaventure shot just 36% from the field last Friday against Duquesne’s physical defense. As of right now, Bona has all five of its starters averaging double digit points per game. The Bonnies have shared the wealth and it seems as if a different Bonnie steps up every game. Last Friday, it was Lofton with 28. On Wednesday night against VCU, Dom Welch had his best game of the year in draining five threes.
The Bonnies cannot force it against a physical, grueling Duquesne defense. They will need to look to get out in transition, find the open man, and hit the open looks. Furthermore, Bona should look to go through Osun Osunniyi, who is probably the best passing big-man in the conference.
Thus, if Bona can shoot more than 40% tomorrow night, like they did against VCU, then they should be in good shape.
As I have said before, and will continue to say again, Osun Osunniyi, the 6’10” Junior Forward from North Jersey, is the most important player on this St. Bonaventure team.
In the first half, Osun struggled mightily against VCU’s Levi Stockard. The halftime score indicated as such. Then, Osun caught fire and was tremendous in the second half as he finished with nine points and nine rebounds. To me, the moment of the game on Wednesday came about three minutes into the second half. Bona found themselves down eight, and they had the ball underneath the VCU basket. Holmes inbounded to Osun on the right elbow. Then, Osun quickly passed it to the wing and immediately set an off-ball screen for Dom Welch, who subsequently drained a three from the right side to cut the deficit to five. Of course, screens do not pop up in the box score, but plays like these are where Osunniyi has an impact on the game.
He was also on the receiving end of a beautiful alley-oop from Kyle Lofton in the second half.
Thus, if Osun can be aggressive on the glass for forty minutes, continue to defend the basket, and provide some offensive sparks, the Bonnies will have no problems against Duquesne. He just needs to play with some fire and not get into foul trouble.
Both teams played in emotional, come-from-behind victories last Wednesday night. Both teams obviously faced each other last Friday night in a defensive slug-fest. I expect another close defensive game between these two rivals and I also expect the Bonnies to prevail once again. Give me the Bonnies 66-60 as Bona will move to 8-1, which will be Bonaventure’s best start since the 2000-01 season.