By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The starting lineup for the St. Bonaventure basketball team on Wednesday night is a big part of what is turning into an interesting story this season.
There’s Kyle Lofton, a sophomore guard. Dominick Welch, a sophomore guard. Jaron English, a sophomore guard. Justin Winston, a freshman forward. And Osun Osunniyi, a sophomore forward/center.
If you are counting, that’s four sophomores and a freshman. They can vote, but they are cut off from some other “adult” activities for the time being.
Still, the five players have been growing up together down in Olean. The latest example came on Wednesday night at the Reilly Center. The Bonnies had little trouble beating George Washington, 72-47.
St. Bonaventure is now 15-8 overall, and 7-3 in the conference. This is a team that lost games in November to opponents in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Siena and Canisius. They also dropped decisions at home to Ohio University and Vermont in that same month.
But then coach Mark Schmidt and his team quietly righted the ship. Bona went 6-1 in December, and 5-3 in January, which included a big overtime win at Fordham on the 29th that ended a three-game losing streak. The victory over the Colonials was the team’s third straight. It’s easy to conclude that Schmidt is turning in another in a series of excellent coaching jobs with this edition of the Bonnies.
Trying to get a coach to express happiness about how a given season is going is never easy. You almost have to read between the lines a little bit to figure out that Schmidt has few complaints after 23 games.
“You’re never satisfied,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be. Give the credit to our guys. It’s a young team. We started 1-4, and now we’re 15-8. We knew coming into the season it would be a tough road early. We had two guys get hurt, and that makes it more difficult. We’re not satisfied, but we’ll continue to try to get better.”
The numbers don’t lie
While statistics sometimes can be deceptive, a few numbers from the final sheet should have been printed in bold type. When’s the last time you saw a college basketball team held to one offensive rebound for an entire game? That was George Washington’s number on Wednesday; the Colonials finished with 20 rebounds in all. Meanwhile, the Bonnies had 13 offensive rebounds and finished with 38 boards for the game.
Rebounds usually come close to the basket, and they quickly turn into baskets. St. Bonaventure had an 18-0 edge on “second-chance points,” and a 48-22 advantage in points scored in the paint.
“The effort was consistent,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t have many lulls in the game, but our defense and rebounding were the keys.”
Then there’s the scoring. How about four players in double figures? That sort of balance puts a smile on the face of any coach. English led the way with a career-high of 21 points.
“I’ve just been working on my shot – some late nights, working on my game,” the guard said. “You stress the process. In A-10 play, I made some adjustments and I’ve been working on my shot and trying to get everything together. I’m shooting the ball well right now. I can’t change anything. I’ve got to get better and keep shooting.”
Osunniyi had 16 points on 8 of 11 shooting and a team-high seven rebounds. Winston and Welch added 11 each. That overcame a rare off-night by Lofton, the team’s leading scorer who is averaging 14 points per game, who finished with five.
Welch is of special interest to Western New Yorkers, since he is the leading scorer in WNY history. Welch spent a year after finishing at Cheektowaga Central at Spire Institute in Ohio before arriving in Olean. The 6-5 player was said to have had only a passing acquaintance with defense when he first played as a freshman, but bought in to improving all aspects of his game and has become a big reason behind the team’s success.
The game on Wednesday was an odd one. It features some scoring streaks in the first half, starting with a 10-0 run by Bona to open the game. The Colonials climbed back into the contest by hitting three straight three-pointers to cut the lead to one. But the Bonnies had a nice 12-3 run at the end of the half to take a 39-27 lead, and they never looked back from there.
By the way, Maceo Jack of George Washington was held to six points after netting 35 in a recent four-overtime game against Davidson. He’s the son of University at Buffalo women’s coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who was in attendance on Wednesday. Jameer Nelson Jr. led GW with 19 points; he’s the son of the former Saint Joseph’s star and 14-year NBA veteran of the same name.
It’s something of an odd year in the Atlantic 10 Conference in that there’s not really a middle class. Dayton (9-0) and Rhode Island (9-1) are the class of the A-10, but Bona (7-3) and Duquesne (7-3) are in good position. Richmond and VCU are 6-3, while Saint Louis is 6-4. That means seven of the 14 teams are at least two games above .500, while the bottom four teams have a combined record of 4-32.
There’s obviously an opportunity here for Bona to get a good seed in the conference tournament, but Schmidt doesn’t want to hear about it right now.
“It’s too early – I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “There are eight games left. Anything can happen in eight games, like injuries. We have to take care of our own business.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)