ALBANY, N.Y. – The Brother Ed Coughlin Franciscan Cup, the annual rivalry between St. Bonaventure University and Siena College, heads to the capital of the Empire State Monday.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.
St. Bonaventure and Siena have played inconsistently to date, but each game serves as a new opportunity, or a new trial, if you will.
The Bonnies, with a record of 6-5, have lost three of their last four games after entering the month of December with a 5-2 record.
Meanwhile, the Saints currently stand at 5-5, losers of two in a row. Although Siena currently stands at .500, this Saints team is no slouch. They defeated Florida State and Seton Hall in the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando. Siena also has victories over Holy Cross, Albany, and Canisius.
Siena lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Army on Nov. 16. They then lost to Harvard and Ole Miss; most recently, the Saints suffered defeats to Georgetown and Delaware.
“They are a talented group,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said when discussing the Siena Saints. “[Jackson] Stormo is really good inside. They like to go inside and out. They run that four-out and one-in [offense]. Everything is predicated on getting the ball inside [to Stormo]. Teams will double him; then he kicks out to find open shooters. He’s an unselfish player. He has really improved.
“But Siena has a good mix of players. It’s not like we can concentrate on one guy. They push the ball in transition, go four-around-one, and try to get it inside to the big guy. But then they kick out, we close out, then they go by you. They have athleticism and a good mix of players that fit their system.”
Stormo, the 6-foot-9 senior from Santa Barbara, California, currently averages 12.8 PPG and grabs 6.2 rebounds per game. As Schmidt noted, Stormo likes to work inside and play with his back to the basket.
He does not shoot from the outside; instead, he will use his vision to find his teammates on the wing. This helps explain why Siena has shot well so far this season. The Saints have converted on 37.9% of their attempts from 3-point range this season, which ranks 41st nationally, per KenPom.
Last season, when Bonaventure defeated Siena 75-to-47 in the 2021-22 season opener, Stormo finished with six points and six rebounds in 32 minutes played.
Another key contributor for Siena is Javian McCollum, the 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from Fort Myers, Florida, who leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.7 PPG.
McCollum likes to push the ball in transition and can score at all three levels. He has scored in double-figures in every game except for two this season. He also shoots 41.7% from deep on his home floor.
But what has plagued this Siena team has been their inability to take care of the basketball. According to KenPom, the Saints have turned it over on 22.2% of their offensive possessions, which ranks 329th in the country. Perhaps even more jarring is their offensive steals percentage, which ranks 357th nationally. Opposing defenses are forcing steals 12.8% of the time.
All in all, Siena turns it over 15.7 times per game.
Turnovers have plagued the Bonnies at times too.
Against Iona, Bona turned it over 21 times. That number dwindled to ten against Florida Gulf Coast, but the Bona offense still lacked rhythm.
The Bonnies shot 33.9% from the field against the Eagles while allowing Florida Gulf Coast to shoot close to 50%.
That’s not a recipe for success.
“We lost the other night because of our defense,” Schmidt admitted. “We cannot allow a team to shoot 48% from the field. The offense is fickle, you win with defense—that’s the staple. We didn’t play defense, and we didn’t rebound. No matter how good your offense is, if you don’t fix those two things, then it does not matter.”
The Bonnies need to step up defensively in Albany.
Bona has done a solid job defending the perimeter for the better part of the season. According to KenPom, Bona ranks fifth nationally in defending the 3-point line. Opposing teams have made just 25.7% of their 3-point attempts against the Brown and White.
But their interior defense has struggled as of late. Iona dominated the paint in Brooklyn, and then Florida Gulf Coast out-rebounded Bona by 13.
Some defensive rotations have not looked as crisp. Blocking out on the glass has also diminished.
But these Bonnies are still young. They are still learning. As I have said all year, growing pains will happen.
If we remember four years ago, during the 2018-19 season, when Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi, and Dominick Welch first donned the Brown and White, the Bonnies finished the non-conference season with a 4-9 record. That year’s squad did not have much experience, but they rallied down the stretch. Bona came centimeters away from cutting down the nets in Brooklyn and punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“Every year, you have four, five, or six guys left over that can teach the other guys all about leadership and chemistry; how to run certain plays, all of that stuff. This year, we started at ground zero with all new guys.” Schmidt said about this year’s squad. “It’s been two steps forward and one step back. We play well at times, but then we will play like we have not practiced. It’s a work in progress. We have young talent, and we have guys still trying to figure out what their roles are. We are trying to find consistency, and that’s been hard to find.”
The Bonnies have played inconsistently to date. Yet, the one player who has consistently scored for the Bonnies is Daryl Banks III, the 6-foot-3 junior from Somerset, New Jersey.
Banks III, who leads the team in scoring, averages 16.5 PPG. He scored 18 in the loss to Florida Gulf Coast, drained three 3-pointers, and also recorded three steals. For the season, Banks III has shot 39.5% from beyond the arc, although that number is just 28.6% in away games this season.
“He’s been a good player for us,” Schmidt said of Banks III, one of the team captains. “He can score, play multiple positions, and he’s a good leader. We are thankful he is on our team.”
Banks III, who transferred to Bona from St. Peter’s, has played Siena six times. Last season, he scored 16 and 14 points against the Saints as a Peacock.
Schmidt does not think Banks III’s experience against Siena will help one way or another, but having some familiarity with the depth perception of Siena’s MVP Arena certainly cannot hurt the junior sharpshooter.
Banks III is not the only Bonnie who has played Siena before.
Kyrell Luc, the 5-foot-11 guard from Dorchester, Massachusetts, scored 13 points against the Saints as a Holy Cross Crusader on Dec. 11, 2021. But that game was played in the Hart Center in Worcester, not in Albany. So Luc will play in Albany for the first time Monday.
Luc ranks second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.5 PPG. With that said, since scoring 22 points against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 30, Luc has failed to score more than a dozen. During this four-game stretch, Luc has made just 17 of his 45 attempts from the field.
But as Schmidt always says, jump shots are fickle. Strong defense and rebounding win games.
“We need to make sure we defend, keep the ball in front of us, and do a good job of blocking out,” Schmidt said. “We are preparing for a really good Siena team. We watched the last game. [Now we have to] try to make our corrections and move on to the next game. Siena is a good team. They play well at home. It’s the next trial. That’s what we are trying to prepare for.”
These young Bonnies have shown flashes of brilliance at some points but have struggled at other times. It’s hard to pinpoint what Bonaventure team will show up: the team that beat Notre Dame wire-to-wire or the team that got out-hustled by Florida Gulf Coast.
In that game against Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 16, the Eagles outscored the Bonnies 40-to-25 in the second half. Bona looked tired down the stretch; perhaps the grueling week of finals got the best of them.
Meanwhile, Siena has not played since Dec. 11, when they lost at Delaware by 11.
Road games are challenging, especially when playing an in-state rival.
Unfortunately for the Brown and White, they do not get the lucky bounces they need as Siena wins the Franciscan Cup.
Siena 72, St. Bonaventure 69
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.