ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – College basketball diehards have likely never heard of Southern Indiana University. Nobody could blame them. And that’s because the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles transitioned to Division I at the beginning of this academic year. So for the first time, Southern Indiana pays a visit to Western New York to take on the St. Bonaventure Bonnies Tuesday.
The game tips off from the Reilly Center at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.
“They have a bunch of really good players,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt. “Guys that can shoot the ball and attack the basket. They are really good in the open court. [The Screaming Eagles] are a really good team, a team in which we have to play our A game if we want to win.”
If the Bonnies want to improve to 3-2 on the young season, they will need to defend the 3-point line. Southern Indiana has made 41.8% of their attempts from beyond the arc this season.
The Screaming Eagles rank 18th in the country in 3-point shooting, per KenPom.
It’s not like Southern Indiana has played poor defenses, either.
On opening night, the Screaming Eagles lost to Missouri 97-to-90. Despite the loss, Southern Indiana had an impressive Division I debut, as the Tigers will give SEC opponents a stern test this winter.
In their home opener, six nights after the loss to Mizzou, the Screaming Eagles beat Southern Illinois, a team with a defense that ranks in the Top 50 nationally, according to KenPom.
Then, as a part of the Gotham Classic, Southern Indiana lost to Notre Dame by a dozen on Wed. Nov. 16. Since then, the Eagles defeated Division III Loras College of Iowa on Fri. Nov. 18.
Now their 3-point shooters have their sights set on the Bonnies.
“We have to protect inside-out first,” said Schmidt when I asked him how his team planned to defend the Southern Indiana sharpshooters. “It starts inside. It starts with dribble penetration and keeping the ball in front of us. We must try to keep the ball out of the paint so they can’t drive and kick it out for threes. It’s also transition defense. We also cannot turn the ball over, so they can’t get out on the break. It’s a lot of different things, but we have to get back on defense and keep the ball above the foul line, so we don’t have a lot of rotations.”
Southern Indiana’s shooting prowess begins with Trevor Lakes, the 6-foot-8 forward from Lebanon, Indiana. Lakes, who transferred in from Nebraska, scored 18 points against Missouri and 21 points versus Notre Dame. In those two games alone, Lakes drained 11-of-18 from 3-point range.
Jelani Simmons, a 6-foot-5 senior guard from Columbus, Ohio, leads the team in scoring by averaging 16.8 points per game (PPG). He scored 26 against Missouri and has also made 11 of his 25 attempts from 3-point range thus far.
Daryl Banks III, who had an excellent game defensively for the Bonnies against Bowling Green, will primarily matchup against Simmons. Both these guards can shoot, and both of these guys have the length to defend the perimeter.
Keep an eye on Banks when Bona defends, and watch out for Lakes–he loves to move without the basketball.
Kiyron Powell, who operates inside for Southern Indiana, stands at 6-foot-10 and weighs 210 pounds. Although he does not weigh as much as other centers, Powell has already recorded 11 blocks.
Even though Powell is a solid rim protector, Southern Indiana has struggled to defend the paint. To this point, the Screaming Eagles have allowed their opponents to make 57.4% of their attempts from inside the arc, which ranks 326th nationally, per KenPom.
Knowing this, expect Chad Venning to get the start for the Bonnies once again. At 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds, Venning can throw his weight around inside on both sides of the ball. Plus, Venning thrived in the victory over Bowling Green. He finished with 15 points and, perhaps most importantly, did not get into foul trouble. He will need to continue to play smart and use his feet defensively to stay on the court.
Bona will also need to have success inside to beat Southern Indiana.
Having Banks score 34 points certainly helps, but the New Jerseyan will not knock down seven 3-pointers every time he laces up his sneakers. He should continue to fire away when open. After all, he does average 21.0 PPG. But Banks also needs to look to get it inside to Venning to take advantage of Southern Indiana’s lack of size.
Kyrell Luc will need to do the same. Luc, the 5-foot-11 guard who transferred to Bona from Holy Cross, has done a nice job thus far with facilitating the offense. The Dorchester, Massachusetts native averages 6.3 assists per game and 15.3 PPG. He uses his athleticism and quickness to dash by defenders and get inside. Once in there, Luc works his magic, as he can either knock down a floater, dish it over to Venning or Barry Evans, or find Banks spotting up in the corner for three.
As with any game, winning the battle of the paint and the battle of the boards is paramount to Bonaventure’s success.
The trio of freshmen–Evans, Yann Farell, and Anouar Mellouk–have all done excellent work on the glass thus far. Each of these three has shown that they can contribute offensively too.
Farell, who scored 16 points at South Dakota State, and added 14 versus Bowling Green, won the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award. The 6-foot-6 guard has a nice stroke from distance, and that was on full display over the past two games. He did not play much at Canisius due to foul trouble.
“Every game this season has been a learning experience and a stepping stone,” Schmidt said of his team’s inexperience. “Every time we get put in a different situation, that will help us. We can only do so much in practice. The more we can play, the better we are going to be. We came out aggressive and played well at times, but we made some inexperienced plays. I thought we took a step forward [against Bowling Green]. So now we will see how many steps we took when we play Southern Indiana.”
Bona will have their hands full against an underrated Southern Indiana squad.
The Screaming Eagles, who will play in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, will test these young and inexperienced Bonnies on Tuesday. Lakes and Simmons will find a way to get their points for the Screaming Eagles, but Bona will control the paint on both ends to somewhat limit Southern Indiana’s shooting prowess.
I like Banks to have another solid game defensively and Luc to find his way offensively. The Bonnies head into Thanksgiving riding a two-game win streak, although this game gets close and uncomfortable down the stretch.
St. Bonaventure 74, Southern Indiana 70
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.