On the evening of Sunday, January 6, St. Bonaventure saw themselves at 4-10, losers of five in a row. They had just lost their first conference game of the year, a 68-53 decision at the hands of George Mason down in Fairfax, Va. Bonaventure had only two players that scored over eight points in that game: Kyle Lofton led the way with 17, while Stockard added 16 of his own. At this point, Mark Schmidt’s club seemed destined for a bottom-half finish within the conference. Just a week before the Mason game, Syracuse embarrassed the Bonnies, with the Orange winning 81-48. Before their loss at the Carrier Dome, the Brown and White lost two close games at Vermont and at Northeastern; the game in Burlington, VT went into double overtime while the Bonnies had the lead late in the game in Boston. With the worst non-conference record in a decade, and a sluggish opening to conference play, Bonaventure seemed to be dead in the water. However, as most fans of the Atlantic 10 conference know, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies can never be counted out.
Following a tough outing at George Mason, the Bonnies dominated both St. Joe’s and Fordham. After those two victories, Bona dropped two games in a row against Rhode Island and Dayton. Against the Flyers, Kyle Lofton missed a free throw at the end of regulation to force overtime. Dayton ultimately prevailed in double overtime, 89-86.
Since that loss to Dayton on January 19, the Bonnies have posted a record of 8-2. Bona took care of business against inferior opponents in the conference and their two losses came at the hands of VCU and Davidson. In that ten game stretch, Bonaventure won five games by at least 14 points and another by nine at Richmond. They also won a couple of barn-burners against Duquesne and LaSalle by a combined four points.
What has brought about this recent success? Seniors Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin, two players who helped carry the Bonnies to the NCAA Tournament last year, are finally fully healthy. Stockard missed the first six games of the season and he did not start to play a full dosage of minutes until Atlantic 10 play began. LaDarien Griffin got injured in the season opening overtime loss to Bucknell; he missed ten games. Like Stockard, Griffin finally began to play 30+ minutes per game once conference play rolled around. Stockard leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game while Griffin averages just over ten points per contest.
Moreover, Atlantic 10 freshman-of-the-year candidate Kyle Lofton has played beautifully: he has rarely turned the ball over, dished out numerous assists, and created good shots for himself. Lofton averages just over 14 points per game while sharing the wealth in posting 3.8 assists per game. He also turns the ball over just 2.1 times per game. Not bad for a freshman. Lofton put the entire league on notice when he lit up George Mason on February 17 at the Riley Center. On ten of 15 shooting, including seven of eight from deep, Lofton dropped 32 points and had seven assists. It goes without saying that this is one of the best stat lines any player has had in the conference this season. Kyle Lofton has a very high ceiling.
Additionally, the 6’10” freshman Osun Osunniyi has been a force in the middle for Mark Schmidt’s club. He averages 7.1 rebounds per game which currently ranks as fourth in the conference. He even snagged 22 rebounds in Pittsburgh against Duquesne! He also leads the league with 2.6 blocks per game: extremely impressive for the young fella. Osunniyi also contributes on the offensive side with some nice moves down low on the block: he chips in 7.2 points per game. One of the major reasons why St. Bonaventure has been able to rebound from a sluggish start has been due to the play of Osun Osunniyi. His length on the defensive end combined with his moves on offense gives Bona numerous options on both sides of the ball. When he does gets into foul trouble, which is something he needs to work on, the Bonnies do tend to struggle. Nonetheless, Bonaventure legend Andrew Nicholson has to cast a smile while watching this young kid play; in fact, most Bonaventure fans indeed do so. Like his classmate Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi has a lot of potential.
Now, with three games to go, the Bonnies find themselves tied with George Mason for fourth place at 10-5. Here are a few reasons why St. Bonaventure will find themselves playing their first game of the conference tournament on Friday:
- St. Bonaventure Remaining Schedule: at George Washington, at Davidson, and home against St. Louis. The game in DC and at home against the Billikens are very winnable. GW has struggled this season and the Bonnies have dominated opponents in the Riley Center as of late. The Brown and White could surprise everyone by winning in Charlotte, but that is unlikely to happen. Bona probably finishes Atlantic 10 play as the four seed posting a record of 12-6.
- George Mason Remaining Schedule: at St. Louis, home against VCU, at George Washington. If Mason played the Billikens in Fairfax, the Patriots would have a much easier time prevailing. However, they have to travel to St. Louis. As the rest of the conference knows, traveling to the gateway of the West, and winning, is not easy. Playing VCU, no matter the venue, comes with its challenges as they have proven to be the cream of the crop this season. Additionally, VCU needs to keep playing well as their NCAA At-Large hopes are on the line. Finally, GW at home should be an easy win for the Patriots to close out the season. Mason likely drops two of the final three and finishes as the five seed with a record of 11-5.
- The Bonnies are playing their best basketball at the right time. As said throughout, the Bonnies are hot. Nobody wants to play them in March as their seniors are finally healthy and their young freshman are beginning to grow comfortable within themselves. Maybe these 2019 St. Bonaventure Bonnies could replicate the 2012 St. Bonaventure Bonnies. It should be a fun couple of weeks in Olean.