ST. BONAVENTURE — The circumstances are eerily similar.
A year ago tonight, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team had a key post player, LaDarien Griffin, go down with a knee injury in the later stages of an unexpected season-opening loss to an inspired mid-major.
On Tuesday, a nearly identical scenario played out.
Once again, Bona lost a key big man when Osun Osunniyi limped off the floor with the help of two trainers after also suffering an apparent knee injury early in the second half of its season-opening matchup with Ohio. And once again, it couldn’t overcome the setback, falling in stunning fashion, 65-53.
Early-season injuries continue to be a scourge on coach Mark Schmidt’s teams.
Two years ago, it was eventual Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year Jaylen Adams, who missed the first six games with an ankle injury. Last winter, Bona opened the season without eventual A-10 First Teamer Courtney Stockard before also losing Griffin and Dominick Welch in the first week.
This year, it was already without junior college transfer Jaren English, who’s expected to contribute in some capacity, but will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, and is now minus another top player indefinitely.
Here we go again.
OF COURSE, those injuries correlate directly with another negative trend: the fact that Bona has now lost three-straight home-openers after, amazingly, winning 48 of the initial 50 inside the Reilly Center, including the first 10 under Schmidt.
Was its latest performance more inexcusable than the others? Definitely.
In 2017 and ‘18, Bona battled before being clipped at the end by a rival (Niagara) with two great guards and a two-time defending conference champion (Bucknell) with a strong veteran presence. On Tuesday, it trailed by as many as 16 to a team that almost certainly won’t be as bad as it was projected (Ohio was selected to finish sixth of six teams in the Mid-American Conference East Division), but was as young as Bona and playing its first game under a new coach on the road.
Yes, the combination of a young squad, an injury to a top player and a motivated opponent was a recipe for disaster. In that way, perhaps the Bonnies were destined for this result, as unexpected as it might have been.
It was a myriad of other factors, however, that made this outcome so unsettling, from the struggles of returning stars Kyle Lofton and Dominick Welch, to their anemic 3-for-19 effort from 3-point range, to the fact they looked far from ready for the expectations thrust upon them in the preseason.
With those things in mind, it’s fair to wonder just how much of a difference Osunniyi’s presence — on this night, anyway — would have ultimately made.
OF COURSE, it’s only one game.
And if there’s anybody who should be able to be on board with that mindset, it’s Bona fans. After all, just consider what transpired in each of the last two years after those similarly shocking 0-1 starts: a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18 and a run to the A-10 Tournament championship game last winter.
True, the conditions are noticeably different.
Bona doesn’t have a pair of senior first team all-conference guards on whose backs it can ride to the promised land. It doesn’t have two injured senior starters waiting in the wings to give their team a boost at midseason.
Losing at home by 12 to a rebuilding team is undoubtedly different from being nipped in overtime, with those returning senior starters watching from the sideline, by a quality Bucknell team.
But the general assessment of these Bonnies before this eyebrow-raising loss remains true in the aftermath: With just one experienced upperclassmen and 10 freshmen and sophomores, there are going to be growing pains; it will take time for some of these guys to develop into quality A-10 players, the same way it did last year.
It could well get a little worse before it gets better.
AS FOR Osunniyi, no update has been given on the extent of his injury and no timetable has been set for his return. Though ordinarily always unwilling to give even an inch on injury status, Bona has been especially tight-lipped about ‘Shoon, leading one to believe the outlook isn’t positive.
If Osunniyi is, indeed, out for an extended period of time, Bona could once again be facing a trying time in this non-conference campaign. If there’s a silver lining on which to lean, however — a lesson to be taken from only one year ago — it’s this:
The talent on this team is undeniable, and Schmidt-coached squads only get better with time and experience.
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)