Bonnies Bottom Line 2/9: Two Things We Saw, and Two Things We Learned

After a disappointing loss to Saint Louis just three days ago, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies took that 59-point outing and flipped it on its head. The Bonnies welcomed the “A10 Killer” La Salle Explorers to the Reilly Center Tuesday night and, well, put up some points. St. Bonaventure scored their highest point total of the season with an 86-73 victory over La Salle. While a quiet Reilly Center might pose trouble for Mark Schmidt and company, this win marks their sixth-straight home victory, keeping the team undefeated at home this season. Here’s two things we saw and two things we learned from the victory over La Salle.

What we saw:

THE “FIVE STARTER DEATH PUNCH”

The starting five of Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Dom Welch, Jalen Adaway and Osun Osunniyi can be one of the most entertaining lineups in the country. Tuesday night, they were. Whether it’s a Jaren Holmes step-back three, a Jalen Adaway fadeaway in the lane, or an Osun Osunniyi slam, this group can put it through the nylon. The starters combined for 80 of the team’s 86 points laid on the Explorers. All five guys scored in double figures, connecting on 8-11 three-point attempts and shooting 63% from the field overall. Why did I title this fragment the “Five Starter Death Punch”? Well, not only am I an absolute(ly not) heavy metal fanatic, but I chose the title because this game plan can produce both positive and negative outcomes. Mark Schmidt and the Bonnies are going to live and die by production of this lineup. In a game like this one, it works quite nicely. Half-court sets dominated the majority of La Salle’s offensive possessions, but on Saturday, Saint Louis elected to play at a faster pace. Anyone watching that game could see that this group was visibly exhausted and had trouble keeping up late with a deep run-and-gun team. Aside from a few buckets from A.J. Vasquez here and there, there is not much shot creating or many scoring threats from the Bonnies’ reserves on a game-by-game basis. The bench has accounted for 20% of the entire team’s scoring this season. If you remove players who have left the program mid-season, that fraction plummets below 10%. I mentioned how depth could hurt this team in the future following the win over George Mason, and it certainly did against Saint Louis. Tuesday night, however, playing that five for the majority of the game proved to be a successful formula. The offensive versatility the starters bring, where any one or two of them drop 20 or all five score in double digits, will (hopefully) continue to work wonders.

Kyle Lofton hit as many threes as he has all season:

If an outsider had just recently come across the individual statistics of this season’s St. Bonaventure Bonnies, they would think that Kyle Lofton is a Ben Simmons clone from beyond the arc. Over his first two seasons as the Bonnies’ ball handler, Kyle Lofton hit exactly one-third of his three-point attempts. By no means is that sniper status, but serviceable enough for a guy whose first scoring option is going to the rack. Lofton hit all three of his long-range shots against La Salle, proving his disastrous start from deep has been an anomaly to the player he is. Mark Schmidt trusts him to keep taking these shots, and so should everyone else. He already proved he can knock them down in the clutch after he pulled up no-hesitation, with a defender in his grill, in the closing seconds at Richmond, winning that game as a result. Now, Lofton’s percentage was an abysmal 8.8% from three before this matchup, and his performance jumped that figure up to 16.2%. Don’t get me wrong; I am not claiming that percentage to be acceptable by any means moving forward. You have to start somewhere after only hitting three out of your first 34(!) shots from deep.

What we learned:

First-half foul trouble:

Jaren Holmes picked up three fouls in the first half. Notice I did not include a date or opponent in that statement, because it’s happened in each of the last two games. Luckily, today’s instance was not as costly as this past weekend’s, but frustrating, nonetheless. The third foul Holmes committed with two minutes left in the half was especially exasperating, as he jumped and contested a 30-footer with a second left on the shot clock. Trust me, this is nothing personal toward Jaren. He is a very talented and intelligent basketball player, and other players have done the same thing multiple times this season. I hate to keep harping on the depth but with an already thin rotation, this team cannot afford to get into early foul trouble as the schedule becomes tougher down the stretch. So basically, don’t let opponents get into the double bonus in the first half. If that happens, one of our starters is more than likely going to have three first-half fouls. If a starter has three first-half fouls in the next matchup with a team of Saint Louis or VCU’s caliber, our chances of winning diminish greatly compared to the consequence that position against. La Salle. Discipline and high-IQ play are what prevail in March.

The Bonnies can’t be giving up so many open looks from three:

This edition of Bonnies Bottom Line seems to have a theme to it: Three-pointers and depth. While the Bonnies rank 52nd in the nation in opponent three-point percentage, our last three opponents have hit double-digit threes and shot the following percentages from beyond the arc: 41.7%, 40.7%, and 38.7%. St. Bonaventure had held its previous nine opponents to just 28.2% from long range. If the depth dilemma doesn’t keep you up at night, imagine what Bones Hyland and VCU, which shot 42% from three in the Jan. 20 meeting, will do if the Bonnies give them the open looks their last three opponents have seen. It won’t be pretty. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but that game at VCU this Friday is for sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 at a critical point in the season for two teams on the NCAA tournament bubble. It is imperative that the team limits clean looks from beyond at the end of the week. I will grant the team a pass on this angle following Tuesday’s outing as it commandingly outshot La Salle with a flaming hot percentage of 64.3% from deep. Also, if there’s one thing this team has proved to the Bona faithful this season, it is its ability to make adjustments, both in between and during games. As Mark Schmidt said postgame, it comes down to tighter defensive rotations and better closeouts, which the team has shown it’s capable of doing for the first nine games of the season.

Bonus: Ashley Howard got tossed and let the officials HAVE IT

I introduced this La Salle Explorers team as the “A10 Killer,” because of its reputation of giving top Atlantic 10 teams trouble, including wins over the top three teams in the preseason conference rankings. They began the game with serious intensity and jumped out to a 22-13 lead thanks to the contagion of head coach Ashley Howard’s energy. During this stretch, the foul differential was actually heavily in favor of the Bonnies. Even with a solid start and early lead, Howard was not a fan of how the referees were officiating the game. A series of what Howard thought to be missed calls culminated in his sprinting onto the court following an Explorer missed layup with contact. That action resulted in a singular technical, which sent Howard over his limit into a verbal tirade on the officials. Howard had been jawing with them during multiple possessions prior, so the official next to him did not have to think twice about ejecting Howard from Bob Lanier Court. Coaches get thrown out all the time, right? No big deal. However, in a season largely unoccupied by spectators, an empty gym allowed everyone in the place, especially the officials, to hear ALL of what Howard had to say. We here at 88.3 The Buzz keep it PG, so let’s just say that Ashley Howard likes when the Bulls hit and well, I can’t think of a placeholder for what was said after he came back in the gym to really let them have it. In all seriousness, Ashley Howard is a Philadelphia native coaching at a Philadelphia school; he is obviously going to have that extra ounce of pride and intensity for these big games. I almost wanted to get rowdy with the La Salle bench after seeing their coach that passionate and profane. After the game ended, Mark Schmidt and Ashley Howard shared what looked to be a lighthearted and friendly conversation, so there is obviously no bad blood there. It was just so unique actually hearing an outburst like that in a silent gym, instead of simply looking on at angry hand gestures and inaudible yelling behind a raucous crowd.

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