Bonnies Bottom Line 12/1: Two Things We Saw and Learned vs. Coppin State

I was so impressed with what I saw from the last two games of the Charleston Classic, yet so bewildered by the scene this past Saturday losing to Northern Iowa. I didn’t have an article for any of those three games for various reasons. 

Out of all games, this was one I imagined I could miss, but I have quite a few thoughts after allowing 80 points in the Reilly Center in back-to-back games — one against a team who earned its first Div. I win of the year, and another against a team ranked bottom 35 in the country according to KenPom. Here’s two things we saw, and two things we learned in St. Bonaventure’s 93-81 victory over Coppin State.

What we saw:

Another energy-less first half

When does this team plan on playing a full 40 minutes? Games like this against a team ranked so low nationally should be the opportunities to right the ship that is these lackluster first half performances. The Bonnies would legitimately be ranked no lower than no. 13 in the country had they won against Northern Iowa. There is no excuse for a team that was top-25 in perimeter defense last season to bring every starter back and proceed to let a team like Coppin St. score their most points in a half over their first 11 games.

St. Bonaventure allowed offensive rebounds, missed relatively easy looks at the rim, and were second to most, if not all loose balls in the first half. All of this allowed the Eagles to control the tempo early. It comes down to a lack of energy — and quite frankly, a lack of respect for mathematically inferior opponents.

“Right now, I think everything is attention to detail, and we’re having – I wouldn’t say issues with that, but I think it’s just energy-wise. We’re not coming out completely focused,” said Jaren Holmes on the team’s performance. “We’re not satisfied at all.”

This team has second-weekend aspirations. I love the energy in the RC as much as anyone but cutting down a 12-point lead to a MEAC bottom feeder before the first half buzzer cannot be the reason for a packed arena to explode.

Guards crashed the boards: Cool but concerning

The Bonnies owe a lot of their success to their ability to have players at multiple positions grab a ton of rebounds. Jalen Adaway (6’5) snagged a career-high 16 rebounds Wednesday night. Jaren Holmes (6’4), in addition to his 24 points, had 10 boards himself, his third game this season with double digits in that category. With the positives from this game being slim, the versatility of this team on the glass from multiple angles is crucial for Bonaventure to gain more possessions and control games.

What’s concerning is the lack of rebounding coming from the guys down low. Osun Osunniyi (6’10, 7’8 wingspan), as much of a defensive anchor he is, doesn’t control the glass as much as one would expect. He was only able to manage five rebounds (two defensive) in 30 minutes of action Wednesday. Perhaps Osunniyi still is not playing at 100%, but I am not in contact with the team doctor and can only judge what I see on the court. Karim Coulibaly (6’9), while only playing nine minutes, did not grab a single board. Coppin State had one player standing 6’7 play over 13 minutes against St. Bonaventure. What will be the story when UConn’s massive frontcourt sees a shot go up on Dec. 11? Mark Schmidt needs to have these guys running box-out drills for the next 10 days straight, or else teams with legitimate size will have field days on the glass moving forward.

What we learned:

Playing five starters the entire game is not the recipe

The “Ironman Five” is the nickname of St. Bonaventure’s five starting seniors. Four of the five average 34+ minutes per game. If not for Osunniyi’s early-season injury hiccups, he would also meet that threshold. The Bonnies were able to get by and be successful with this model last season playing just 21 games with long gaps between contests.

With a 30-game schedule and many games just two to three days apart, it can’t happen if the team wants to sustain long-term success. Mathematically, it just doesn’t work. Not only does it take a toll on guys during the game, but it exponentially increases the risk of injury for five difference-making players.

It finally caught up to them Wednesday night. After not being able to put Coppin State away in the closing minutes of the second half, Kyle Lofton suffered an injury with just 52 seconds remaining. Lofton has been as durable as a player can be, leading the nation in minutes two seasons ago and playing the second most on average this year. Guys off the bench will likely have to step up in the games to come as Lofton had to be carried off the floor Wednesday, unable to put any pressure on his right leg.

The problem is: CAN any of the guys on the bench be trusted to take the minutes load that Lofton has possessed during his entire career?

Quadry Adams, Karim Coulibaly and Justin Ndjock-Tadjore combined for 32 minutes of action Wednesday. Linton Brown missed the game with a non-COVID illness.

“They’re young guys. They’re still learning. They’re still not comfortable. You don’t really know what they’re going to get, but today they gave us some positive minutes, and that’s what we need,” Schmidt said of his reserves. “Hopefully this gives them some confidence moving forward.”

With stiffer competition ahead in three of the next four matchups, those used to sitting for most of the game will need to keep that confidence if Lofton is to miss multiple outings.

Controlling pace needs to be the blueprint

This relates to both the first-half struggles and the risk of playing five starters for such a large portion of the game. The Bonnies can run the Ironman Five for however long they want if they just control tempo. This is not a team that will win games by running teams out of the gym. That has not been Schmidt’s brand of coaching, and it isn’t changing now. Coppin State made St. Bonaventure run Wednesday. The Eagles were able to knock down shots early in the shot clock, forcing the Bonnies to submit to their opponent’s tempo.

How did St. Bonaventure win games in 2020-21? They were the slow-paced killers who took teams away from their rhythm and fast pace. Tight perimeter defense forced misses, but the first option was not to get out in transition. The plan was simple: get the ball in Lofton’s hands to run offensive sets that would take up a minimum 20 seconds of the shot clock to get a clean look. Coppin State forced the Brown and White to play their brand, which would work if this team was full of elite shooters and high-flying athletes. They certainly have a few of those, but the roster is made up of high-IQ, fundamental players who know how to slow a game down and get the best shot each possession.

If they play their brand of basketball, there won’t be these first-half slumps, second-half comebacks and exhaustion from guys playing 35+ minutes.

“We’re not used to giving up 80 points a game, so we got to figure some things out, and we will. I’m confident in this team and the plan that Coach Schmidt has for us,” Holmes said.

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