ST. BONAVENTURE — Osun Osunniyi established this goal on the record at the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s media day in October.
“This year, I want to be a double-double guy,” the 6-foot-10 center said while sitting at a table inside the Hall of Fame room. “That was my goal after last season, watching everything. I want to bust my butt to be a double-double guy every night.
“Because if I get a double-double, I’m doing my job. It helps my teammates out if I’m helping too.”
He’s off to a good start in achieving it.
In his first extended action of the season — he played only 11 minutes in the season-opener against Ohio before exiting early in the second half with a knee injury — Osunniyi recorded just that: a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds.
It was the seventh such effort of his career, and what he and the Bonnies hope is the first of many performances with a similar statline this winter. And though the points — three off his career high — were critical as Bona needed almost every one of its 56 to top Mercer on Tuesday at the Reilly Center, it was the rebounding that, to him, mattered most.
In the previous three games, Bona was outrebounded by at least eight in each contest and was a whopping minus-11 in differential. For the season, it ranked No. 12 (of 14 teams) in the Atlantic 10 in total rebounding (33.2).
Against the Bears, however, it held a 36-33 advantage on the glass, and with that effort, jumped a spot on the rebounding list to No. 11 (33.7). That was a point of emphasis for Osunniyi as he prepared for his Tuesday return.
“Every game, I think we’ve been outrebounded,” he said after the Bonnies’ 56-51 triumph, “so the last couple of practices, the main focus was, we can’t get beat up on the backboard. So I knew coming back that was going to be my main personal thing, getting rebounds and helping my teammates be able to win the backboard battle.”
Osunniyi’s presence, especially defensively, can’t be overstated.
The Pleasantville, N.J., native led the A-10 and finished sixth nationally in blocks as a freshman. He entered the year No. 6 on Jay Bilas’ ESPN.com list of the top defenders in the country. He has an uncanny ability to take a charge when it might be better than going for a block.
If ‘Shoon is healthy, there’s a good chance Siena forward Manny Camper doesn’t pull down 17 rebounds by himself, and perhaps that outcome (a 78-65 loss) is slightly different as a result. If he’d been able to return a game earlier, it’s almost certain that Canisius doesn’t grab 16 offensive rebounds and outboard Bona by the same number.
That’s the kind of game-changing impact that Osunniyi makes, even when he’s not scoring.
Bona allowed just four second-chance points to the Bears after surrendering 16 to the Golden Griffins.
“You look at every good defensive team, they always have a rim protector,” said coach Mark Schmidt, when asked about the difference Osunniyi made. “Because you’re going to make mistakes and guys are quick and they can go off the bounce and they’re going to get into the paint, and you need somebody back there that can clean up things, clean up mistakes.
“We don’t win without 15 and 12 from ‘Shoon, and that’s the bottom line.”
For Osunniyi, Tuesday’s performance was more a continuation of what he’d done all of last year than a declaration of his importance moving forward.
“I’ve always prided myself on defense and being that last line of defense,” he said. “So it wasn’t a statement. I’ve always been like that, and I wasn’t going to let it be any different or have an injury stop me from doing what I do to help my teammates.”
n Osunniyi wasn’t the only Bonnie to make a big impact in his return to action on Tuesday night.
In his first game as a Division I player, Jaren English, who’d missed the first five contests plus the exhibition and “secret scrimmage” against Kent State with a broken hand, also played a vital role in the victory.
Though he finished just 1-for-6 shooting, the Ranger Community College transfer made a handful of positive plays off the dribble), played within himself, was strong defensively and made four-of-five free throws in the final five minutes to help keep Bona even with the Bears.
Interestingly, he played 30 minutes in his debut, taking Matt Johnson’s minutes entirely (Johnson, who’d been averaging 20 minutes per game, didn’t see the floor) while eating into those of freshman Alejandro Vasquez.
Afterward, he earned high praise from his coach.
“He’s a winner,” Schmidt said. “He’s been well-coached, he understands how to play the game. He’s not the most athletic kid; he didn’t shoot it well today, but he can shoot the ball. He can defend, he’s tough, he shares the ball, he’s driving for somebody else.
“He brings a lot to our team, just in practice, his energy, his enthusiasm, his willingness to do what it takes to win. That’s why we brought him on. He’s a glue guy. It’s not like he sits out there and you say he’s overly athletic or does this; he just wins.”