ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – Seniors Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi, and Dom Welch started their careers at the Reilly Center on Nov. 7, 2018, when Bona lost in overtime to the Bucknell Bison.
On Friday, their illustrious Reilly Center careers will come to a close as the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (19-8, 11-5) host the Richmond Spiders (19-11, 10-7) in a very important Atlantic 10 matchup.
The 2022 senior class is looking to finish better than they started.
And they need a win on Friday.
For Bona, it’s simple. If they beat the Spiders, they will secure a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament, advancing straight to the tournament’s quarterfinals.
“We have veteran guys and I think they understand how important this game is,” said Mark Schmidt, the St. Bonaventure Head Coach. “It’s their last game so there will be some emotions.”
Following the game, the St. Bonaventure Athletics Department will host a ceremony honoring the five seniors. Along with the aforementioned trio, the careers of Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway will be celebrated in front of the home crowd.
The Bonnies will want to be able to celebrate victoriously, not with a dark cloud hanging over it.
But if Bona loses to the Spiders, there is still a way for them to finish in the Top 4 of the conference. Bona will need the VCU Rams to knock off the St. Louis Billikens on Saturday for that to happen.
“It’s always easier to win three games than it is to win four games,” Schmidt said when asked about a possible Top 4 seed. “But St. Louis beat us [in 2019] and they won four games [in four days.] [In 2011,] UCONN won the Big East [playing] five games [in five days]. It’s not impossible. You don’t need to have a miracle. It has been done before. We always want to get in the Top 4 so we have fewer games, but it’s not end-all [be all]. Teams playing four games in four days have won championships. But our goal is to win [Friday] night, get to 20 wins, finish in the Top 4, and have that first day off. If we don’t, it’s not going to be like we cannot win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.”
As always with Schmidt, the focus remains on beating Richmond Friday night.
But the Bonnies will have a much easier time taking care of business if Osunniyi returns to the lineup.
It has been six days since he injured his ankle on Hawk Hill in Philadelphia. The 6-foot-10 forward did not suit up at VCU on Tuesday.
“We will see how he does in practice [Thursday] and going through the walk-through [Friday],” Schmidt said when asked about Osunniyi. “It will be a game-time decision.”
‘Shoon was not the only Bonnie battling physical ailments on Tuesday.
Both Adaway and Quadry Adams were battling a stomach bug that made its way through the team for a second time this season.
“They are feeling better now,” Schmidt said when asked about those affected by the illness. “Hopefully, they will be 100% come 7 o’clock tomorrow night.”
Adaway, who leads the team in scoring averaging 15.8 points per game (PPG), was not himself on Tuesday. He scored 12 points and went an unorthodox 4-of-16 from the field.
Between Osunniyi’s absence and the stomach virus, the Bonnies looked lost against the Rams.
This trend cannot continue against this veteran Richmond team. If it does, then the Bonnies will be rooting hard for VCU come Saturday.
The Spiders, who were picked to finish second in the preseason poll behind the Bonnies, have won just three of their last six games. Over that span, Richmond split a home-and-home series against George Mason, defeated La Salle and St. Louis, and lost to VCU and Dayton.
Tyler Burton, who scored 36 points in a win over the Bonnies on Feb. 4, leads the team in scoring. The Uxbridge, Massachusetts native averages 16.4 PPG and grabs 7.4 rebounds per contest, which also leads the team.
On Tuesday, however, Burton was limited to just three points in the loss to Dayton because of foul trouble. Bona will need to keep the 6-foot-7 forward in check to have a chance.
Alongside Burton, three other Spiders to watch out for are Nathan Cayo, Jacob Gilyard, and Grant Golden
Cayo, who hails from Montreal, Quebec, is a fifth-year senior who averages 8.8 PPG. The 6-foot-7 forward will likely match up against Adaway.
Gilyard, who leads the conference in steals per game, runs the offense for Richmond. A true old-school point guard, Gilyard, who stands at just 5-foot-9, averages 5.7 assists per game. He dished out eight assists against Bona when these two teams last played. He averages 12.6 PPG.
Then there is Golden, who has played in a Richmond uniform since 2016. Yes, this is Golden’s sixth year as a Spider. During his freshman season, on Dec. 17, 2016, Golden collapsed on the floor in a game against Texas Tech due to an accelerated heart. He was granted an extra year of eligibility following a cardiac ablation procedure that took place shortly thereafter. He returned the following season, as a redshirt freshman, to score 498 points, which set a new Richmond freshman record.
Fast forward to the pandemic, Golden decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s decision to grant winter-sport athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, thus returning for a sixth season. The St. James, Maryland native currently averages 14.5 PPG and 6.5 rebounds per game. In six career games against the Bonnies, Golden has averaged 12.8 PPG. This season was the first time Golden tasted victory against the Bonnies. He was previously 0-5 against Bona.
Richmond is very good at taking good care of the basketball, which should not surprise anyone considering this team’s experience. According to KenPom, the Spiders turn the ball over on just 14.5% of their possessions, which ranks ninth in the country.
But they do a poor job at defending the perimeter. Richmond has allowed its opponents to shoot 35.2% from beyond the arc, which ranks 262nd nationally, per KenPom.
Perhaps the Bonnies can put their recent shooting woes behind them. Over the past two games, Bona has made just five three-pointers, shooting just 14.7%.
One of those struggling with his shots is Holmes. Since the Charleston Classic, Holmes has made just 17% of his three-point attempts. Maybe he can shake it off on his senior night. He mentioned to the media that his favorite moment as a Bonnie was when he dropped a career-high 38 points against St. Joseph’s on Jan. 6, 2021. Perhaps he finds that touch on Friday. He’s due for a big game.
A week ago, the Bonnies were flying high, having fun, and beaming with confidence. Then Osunniyi injured his ankle against St. Joseph’s and the season immediately turned for the worse.
But the Bonnies are back home, where they are 12-2 this season. With or without Osunniyi, the Bonnies have always played better on their home floor.
Plus, the Bonnies are seeking revenge against Richmond. The Spiders beat Bona 71-to-61 on the first Friday in February.
To add to that, an all-important Top 4 seed is up for grabs. All the Bonnies have to do is win.
And the “Iron Man Five,” with or without their defensive anchor, will get the job done in a close game.
It will be all smiles during the postgame Senior Night ceremony.
St. Bonaventure 69, Richmond 67
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.