BY TYLER SMITH, SPORTS DIRECTOR.
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies entered the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the number-one seed for the first time in school history. The team jumped out to a 40-19 halftime lead, but the Duquesne Dukes would not go down easy in the second half. High energy and a full-court press would cut the lead to single digits in the first ten minutes of the second half, but the defense shored up and turned into efficient offense for the rest of the contest. The St. Bonaventure Bonnies defeated the Duquesne Dukes, 75-59, and advance to the Atlantic 10 semifinals Saturday at 6 p.m.
What we saw:
An inside-out game
The Bonnies opened the game 3-12 from three-point range. The team did not see the same success from long-distance it has in recent outings, so the answer was simple: take closer shots. Over the course of the game, St. Bonaventure outscored Duquesne 50-30 in points in the paint, which made all the difference in a 16-point victory. When the shots haven’t fallen, the Bonnies have continued to take these long-range shots. However, on Friday afternoon, the found the winning offensive formula to be around the rim. While the Bonnies did find success in the painted area, that didn’t stop them from hoisting up another 11 three-point attempts following the slow start. The team continued its long-range struggle, connecting on just three of those 11 attempts, combining for just six made threes on the day.
The difference was that St. Bonaventure got open looks as a result of its inside presence. Dribble-drive opportunities, as well as Osun Osunniyi inside looks allowed for kick-out passes to open shooters on the corners and wings. One of the best parts about this team is that they can attack you in ten different ways. Friday afternoon, layups, dunks and a whole lot of putback shots were the winning recipe.
Okay, even I’ll admit that title is a bit corny. Regardless, the Bonnies’ winning effort was spearheaded by the dual performance of Dominick Welch and Osun Osunniyi. Welch hit four of St. Bonaventure’s six three-pointers, totaling 18 points on the day. As the Bonnies do not have a “true” frontcourt mate for Osunniyi, Welch has been the compliment to number 21 in the rebounding department. Welch was second on the team with nine boards, but it always seemed like he crashed to the basket when the shot went up. For a player who came into St. Bonaventure labeled as a three-point specialist, it has been pleasing to watch his progression as both a rebounder and defender.
The team’s leading rebounder, Osun Osunniyi, put together a smorgasbord of statistics in the victory over the Dukes. Osunniyi matched Welch’s scoring effort with 18 points, adding 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks. If we’re talking about progression, Osunniyi has taken an obsolete portion of his game and turned it into a serious aspect of the team’s success. He has become a more than capable passes with great court vision in the half-court setting. I can say with absolute certainty that the Bonnies would not be in the position they sit in without the effort of Osunniyi. Sometimes I get worried he puts in too much effort. Osunniyi tweaked some part of his leg in the season-finale loss to Dayton, and I guess my worries amounted to nothing as Osunniyi dove for multiple lose balls during the quarterfinal matchup. Like I said earlier, the Bonnies do not have much frontcourt depth, therefore keeping Osunniyi healthy is a top priority.
On a real positive note, Osunniyi connected on a 16-footer just above the free throw line! The offense would become far more deadly if Osunniyi had these deeper shots in his daily arsenal, but that lone mid-range shot with a combination of blocks, putback dunks and alley-oops was a welcome consolation.
What we learned:
The Bonnies can’t get complacent with a halftime/big lead
“I always say the first five minutes, the first 10 possessions of the second half are critical,” said head coach Mark Schmidt in the postgame presser.
Friday, the Duquesne Dukes took advantage of a team riding high on its 21-point halftime lead and punched it in the mouth. Duquesne went on a 14-2 run over a three-minute span early in the second half, and the Bonnies found themselves ahead by just eight points. Luckily, St. Bonaventure could lean on its defense to limit the scoring effort of one of the less-skilled offensive teams in the conference for the rest of the game. However, if the Bonnies find themselves leading at halftime, it is imperative that they begin the second half the same way they played the first on Friday. The St. Louis Billikens will not have the same scoring droughts the Dukes did. St. Bonaventure must keep its foot on the gas for the entire game as it will face a much tougher opponent Saturday evening.
This is an NCAA tournament team
The Bonnies look to make their second NCAA Tournament in four years (three tournaments) after a fantastic season that saw the university’s first outright Atlantic 10 regular-season title in history. The “Five Starter Death Punch” of Kyle Lofton, Dom Welch, Jaren Holmes, Jalen Adaway and Osun Osunniyi all scored in double figures again. What’s so exciting about this group is its ability to switch defensively. I would seriously put the Bonnies’ starting five up against any in the country. Jalen Adaway and the rest of the team has raved about this group’s chemistry, friendship, and unselfishness over the course of the season. Nineteen of the team’s 32 field goals were assisted on. Nobody cares who leads the team in scoring. The media talks to a new member of the starting five every game, it seems. This group is built for March. I just hope its legs are.