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Surging Bonnies Host George Washington Friday Evening

Following two big wins over Davidson this week, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (12-3, 10-3 Conf.) host the George Washington Colonials (4-10, 3-4 Conf.) on Friday evening.

Bona’s penultimate regular-season game tips off from the Reilly Center at 6 pm on ESPN Plus.

The Bonnies and the Colonials have yet to square off this season. These two teams were supposed to play in Western New York back on January 9, but a positive test within the GW program forced the Atlantic 10 to postpone that game.

St. Bonaventure has had George Washington’s number in recent years as the Bonnies have won four in a row over the Colonials.

Before scouting the Colonials from Foggy Bottom, let’s quickly touch on an important milestone in St. Bonaventure basketball history.

Reflection: Ten Wins, Again!

With Wednesday’s victory at Davidson, the Bonnies have won ten games in Atlantic 10 play for the seventh season in a row, which is quite the accomplishment considering where this program was in the mid-2000s.

The Brown and White faithful should not only celebrate the importance of this Davidson victory but also reflect on how far St. Bonaventure has come.

Ten years ago, with Junior Andrew Nicholson averaging 20.8 points per game (PPG), the Bonnies finished the regular season three games above .500. During that 2010-11 season, the Bonnies defeated St. John’s on a Nicholson buzzer-beater and won eight conference games.

Bona also suffered some tough losses to Virginia Tech, Rhode Island, and Dayton that year.

However, the biggest heartbreak of the season occurred when Bona lost in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament to LaSalle. The Bonnies lost to the Explorers in double overtime after having a double-digit lead in the second half. At that time, the opening rounds of the conference tournament took place on campus sites. As the eighth seed, Bona hosted LaSalle at the Reilly Center, which only made that loss even worse.

Bona would go on to play in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) but they lost in the first round to Central Florida 69-54.

And this 2010-11 season was deemed a huge success. The Bonnies played in a postseason tournament. It also marked the first time that Head Coach Mark Schmidt finished with a winning season. And perhaps most importantly, the Bonnies finished above .500 for the first time since the 2003 scandal rocked the program.

A year later, Andrew Nicholson brought the Bonnies to the promised land, as the Brown and White went on a miraculous run in Atlantic City and won the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Bona then went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, only to fall just short to Florida State in the opening round.

Nashville, TN – St. Bonaventure legend Andrew Nicholson posts up against a Florida State defender. The fourteenth-seeded Bonnies lost to the third-seeded Seminoles 66-63 in the NCAA Tournament on March 16, 2012. Photo courtesy of Jamie Squire of Getty Images.

Fast forward a decade.

The St. Bonaventure Bonnies are now the class of the Atlantic 10 conference and no longer a consistent bottom-feeder. Schmidt now ranks second in conference wins among active head coaches, trailing only Richmond’s Chris Mooney, who has 138. Since the 2014-15 season, the Bonnies have won 82 games in conference play, which ranks second in the Atlantic 10 during that span.

The Bonnies are in the mix for another NCAA Tournament bid this season. If Bona were to dance again, it would mark their third tournament appearance under Schmidt. Bona also went to the NIT in 2016, but we all know that Seniors Dion Wright and Marcus Posley deserved to play in the NCAA Tournament that year. Thanks, Tulsa.

In 2018, New York Post columnist and proud Bona alum Mike Vaccaro wrote an op-ed for the Bona Blog saying that we are in the “Golden Era” of St. Bonaventure basketball.

Right on, Mike.

Some fans may dispute this, claiming that the “Golden Era” was during the Bob Lanier days. During that period, the Bonnies went to the Sweet Sixteen in 1968 and to the Final Four in 1970. Bona also won an NIT Championship in 1977. The Bonnies also found themselves ranked in the AP poll regularly. But those Bonnies did not have to come out of the hopeless cellar that was 2003-2004, which not only depleted the University but also led to a horrible tragedy. Nor did those Bonnies ever have to face NCAA violations, probations, and a reduction in scholarships.

Since the scandal, the Bonnies have accomplished the unimaginable: becoming perennial contenders in the “mighty” Atlantic 10 conference. Coach Schmidt has done one heck of a job in the Enchanted Mountains.

Why bring this up now? The story of St. Bonaventure basketball over the last two decades embodies two words: hope and resilience. Those two themes have never been more applicable than today as we continue to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. This story should teach us how to remain resilient and never lose hope, no matter what obstacles remain in our paths.

So in celebrating the victory over Davidson, I hope that Bona fans, and all college basketball fans for that matter, can stop and smell the roses; and appreciate how far the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have come since those dark and gloomy days in the mid-2000s.

Scouting the George Washington Colonials

This past Wednesday, George Washington entered the visitor’s locker room at George Mason holding a 13-point halftime lead. The Colonial offense then stalled in the second half, and the Patriots stormed back to beat GW 63-58.

Needless to say, George Washington has had a difficult year.

Aside from their sub-.500 record, the Colonials lost a few players mid-season and have had numerous Covid-19 issues. Following a ten-day pause in mid-January, the Colonials lost a pair of games to VCU and Dayton. Then, GW had to quarantine again. This time,  Covid-19 kept GW sidelined for a month. The Colonials came out of that long pause last Sunday, February 21, in which GW upset the Rhode Island Rams.

Two-Headed Monster on Offense

Guard James Bishop and Forward Jamison Battle combine to average 38.5 PPG, which creates a two-headed monster for George Washington on offense.

Bishop, a 6’2″ sophomore from Baltimore, transferred to GW from LSU after last season. While in Baton Rouge, Bishop played in 16 games and averaged 3.1 PPG.

Under Head Coach Jamion Christian, Bishop has emerged as the “go-to” guy and he could become one of the best players in the conference in the coming years.

Fairfax, VA – James Bishop, who wears #11 for GW, celebrates with one of his teammates, Hunter Dean, while heading into the huddle. GW had a lot to celebrate in the first half, but the Colonials ultimately lost at George Mason on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. Photo courtesy of Daniel Frank of A10 Talk.

Bishop has scored 20 or more in every game but four. He exploded for 28 in the victory over Rhode Island last Sunday and even hit the game-winning three against Duquesne back on January 3. He had on off day against Mason on Wednesday, scoring just 15 and shooting four of 12 from the field.

Bishop has taken more shots than any other Colonial this season. He has attempted 217 shots from the field, making 44% of them. Furthermore, Bishop has drained 36.7% of his three-point attempts. He can score at all three levels.

Meanwhile, Jamison Battle is the only other Colonial to have attempted at least 100 shots. Standing at 6’7″, Battle averages 18.4 PPG. Last season, Battle made the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team as he led the conference in three-pointers made with 89. The Robbinsdale, MN native can flat-out shoot the basketball. In conference play, Battle has shot 41.2% from deep, which leads the team.

Battle has started every game this season and has played at least 35 minutes in each of those games. He will play almost the full 40 in Olean and he will put up at least ten shots. Battle has yet to have a game this season in which he has failed to score double-digits.

Last season, Battle played against the Bonnies twice. In the first meeting, at Foggy Bottom, Battle managed to score 20 points but shot just six of 16 from the field. Then in Olean, on February 5, 2020, Battle scored a baker’s dozen and drained three long-balls in the RC.

Undoubtedly, the Bonnies will have to keep both of these players in check.

Depleted Roster

Back on December 31, 2020, Sophomore guard Jameer Nelson, Jr. and Senior forward Ace Stallings departed the George Washington program. According to the GW Hatchet, this announcement came a week after Senior guard Maceo Jack announced his intent to transfer away from GW.

Although Jamion Christian lost three players, he gained one in Junior Ricky Lindo. At the beginning of this season, Lindo decided to opt-out due to Covid-19. But when Nelson, Stallings, and Jack all departed the program, Lindo decided to lace up his shoes and rejoin the team.

Lindo has been a huge addition to this team as the Junior forward averages 12.3 PPG. He also snags 11 rebounds per game. Although he has played just four games, Lindo has provided the Colonials with a spark. He also played every minute at George Mason and has started each game that he has played.

Vanderbilt Grad Transfer Matt Moyer has been a nice option too, but he has not played since January. He averages close to a double-double. If Moyer does suit up at the RC, he could irritate the Bonaventure forwards, namely Osun Osunniyi.

Aside from Bishop, Battle, and Lindo, the Colonials do not have a consistent scoring threat. The other two starters, Sophomore Hunter Dean and Freshman Lincoln Ball, have been non-factors as those two combine to average just 3.9 PPG. Junior Sloan Seymour could come off the bench and hit a three or two. And the same could be said for Freshman Tyler Brelsford. But the Colonials just do not have the depth.

Their depleted roster likely explains why George Washington has struggled defensively this year. They rank 273rd in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Playing in the Atlantic 10 night in and night out demands physical toughness, durability, and confidence. A young, depleted roster like GW’s will struggle because they are still learning how to play among themselves in the conference.

Hopefully, the program turns itself around going forward as GW has some young talent in place for the future.

How Do the Bonnies Win?

George Washington ranks 198th on KenPom and 219th in the NET. Since the Bonnies are at home, a win over GW would constitute a “Quad 4” victory.

Simply, if the Bonnies lose this game, we can kiss an NCAA At-Large bid goodbye, as @SBUnfurled’s chart shows.

For the Bonnies to avoid disaster, Bona has to (1) continue to play well defensively and (2) play smart basketball.

Keep Playing Good Defense

St. Bonaventure’s defense is nothing short of fantastic. The Bonnies rank 48th in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

Against Davidson on Wednesday, the Bonnies tightened things up and did not allow the Wildcats to score in the final two minutes. Specifically on that last possession, when the Wildcats had the ball down three, the Bonnies rotated off Davidson’s switches beautifully and the ‘Cats could not get a good look before time expired.

Junior Jalen Adaway had a terrific defensive game as did fellow Junior Osun Osunniyi. Kyle Lofton also held Davidson guard Kellan Grady, “The Brown and White Killer,” to just two points. Grady had never scored less than 16 in seven games against Bona. Overall, it was a remarkable defensive effort from the Bonnies.

Coach Schmidt even said, “to hold that team to 53 points is an incredible effort.”

If Bona can keep playing this way defensively, then they should have no problem taking care of George Washington. After all, GW’s offense dwarfs that of Davidson’s. But the Bonnies cannot afford to take the Colonials lightly. As I explained above, GW has two players that can light up the scoreboard. So Bona will have to continue to bear down on the perimeter defensively. They have done a great job at defending the three to this point already, ranking 40th in the nation in doing so, according to KenPom. Thus, the level of effort and intensity on defense needs to remain the same on Friday night.

Playing Smart Basketball

The Bonnies can avoid disaster by playing smart: taking care of the basketball and limiting silly mistakes.

Bona turned the ball over just nine times at Davidson on Wednesday, one of the many reasons why they emerged victoriously. Whereas in the losses to St. Louis and VCU, the Bonnies lost the turnover battle on both occasions.

The Bonnies have the experience to make good choices with the ball. Lofton has done a tremendous job in finding the open man, making the smart pass, and avoiding turnovers. Lofton, the quarterback of this team, will need to do more of the same tomorrow.

Other silly mistakes include driving recklessly to the basket or committing lazy fouls. Sometimes, those two things go hand-in-hand. Offensive fouls or moving screens have plagued Bona before, so the Brown and White most avoid those against GW.

Dom Welch, Jaren Holmes, and Osun Osunniyi have all had their fair dosage of foul trouble during this season. What those three need to do is replicate their performance from Wednesday night at Davidson. The officials called just ten fouls on the Bonnies, a season-low. And those three had terrific games because they all stayed on the floor playing fearless basketball. Welch could not miss in the first half while Holmes ended up leading the game in scoring. Osunniyi, meanwhile, did not fill up the box score, but he had some beautiful passes, which led to numerous easy buckets.

The only way I see George Washington keeping this game interesting is if the Bonnies cough up the basketball in bunches and if Bona has multiple players in foul trouble. Look at the Rhode Island game back on December 30, a game in which Bona turned the ball over 20 times and committed 25 fouls. That’s not the winning formula.

Prediction

Ironically enough, George Washington has not won in Olean since the 2013-2014 season, which was the last time Bona failed to win ten conference games. Led by Kevin Larsen, Isaiah Armwood, and Maurice Creek, the Colonials beat the Bonnies 79-71 at the Reilly Center on January 18, 2014. George Washington went on to play in the NCAA Tournament that season, they have yet to make it back since.

I think George Washington’s drought in Olean continues beyond 2021. GW still needs to develop its younger core while St. Bonaventure’s starting five is the best in the conference. The Bonnies and the Colonials are clearly in different tiers and I think Friday’s game at the Reilly Center will reflect that.

I would love to see the entire starting five score in double-digits. If Bona plays smart and gets a heavy dose of minutes from each starter, then this should come easily against a weaker GW defense. I think my wish will come true.

St. Bonaventure 77, George Washington 61