Iowa State guard and former Bonnie Jaren Holmes (on ground) vies for the ball with Pittsburgh’s Nelly Cummings during a first round NCAA Tournament game on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Jaren Holmes and Osun Osunniyi had been in this position before.

It was nearly two years to the day, remember, that their St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team got off to a slow start against LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring just 10 points in the first 14 minutes.

Such was the duo’s fate in their return trip to the Big Dance on Friday.

With a chance to secure the NCAA victory that had eluded them in 2021, Holmes’ and Osunniyi’s sixth-seeded Iowa State team, remarkably, fell into a 22-2 hole against No. 11 Pittsburgh. It didn’t make its first basket until 9:54 was showing on the first half clock, with one (Holmes) tallying off the other’s assist.

Just like Bona did in Bloomington, when it made it a five-point game late in the first half, the Cyclones found their footing, pulling to within 28-23 just before the break. But just like that day in Indiana, their momentum was short-lived, as Pittsburgh built its advantage back up to 22 before earning a convincing 59-41 victory.

For the former Atlantic 10 all-conference selections, their stay at the Big Dance, again, was over as quickly as it began. But the fact they had again reached this stage, as two starters on what at one point was the No. 11 ranked team in the country, was a testament to their growth as players.

Particularly in the case of Holmes.

The general assumption was that, given his struggles last season, the 6-foot-4 guard would have the toughest time — of the four senior starters who transferred — finding success at the power conference level.

Osunniyi, the thinking was, would be able to make a defensive impact anywhere; Kyle Lofton had, at one point, been one of the top-25ish point guards in the country and Dom Welch at least had an in with Alabama’s coach, former UB boss Nate Oats. But it actually ended up being the other way around.

Welch missed the non-conference due to injury and was never quite good enough to crack the regular rotation at one of the best programs in the country, averaging two points and two rebounds in nine minutes per game. Lofton started 30 of 31 games at Florida, and averaged a team-best 33 minutes per night, but largely went unnoticed playing for a team that went an un-Florida-like 16-17 and was manhandled by Central Florida, 67-49, in the first round of the NIT.

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And Osunniyi started, and was productive, averaging nine points, four rebounds and a block while shooting 58.5 percent from the field, but split time while averaging just 18.6 minutes per night.

But Holmes?

A year ago, droves of Bona fans had actually turned against him due to his season-long struggles, particularly from the 3-point line. This winter, however, he was perhaps the best player (averaging a team-best 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal) for an Iowa State team that finished 19-14 and logged six top-10 victories, including two over Baylor and one over Kansas, Texas and North Carolina, with both he and Osunniyi being named All-Big 12 honorable mention.

In the end, neither former Bonnie played particularly well against Pitt. Holmes had 12 points, but finished 6-of-17 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range. Shoon went 0-for-3 from the floor in 10 minutes. It’s largely why the Cyclones never had much of a chance on Friday in Greensboro.

Afterward, there were probably some Bona fans who were happy to happy to see Holmes and Osunniyi (and Welch and Lofton) come up short, viewing it as some kind of come-uppance for choosing to leave rather than using their fifth year of eligibility for one more run at a tournament win at Bona.

But for the fans who still hold any ill will, just know: the feeling isn’t mutual. Osunniyi touched on these and other subjects, including what went into his decision to leave Bona and his support of this year’s Bonnies, in a podcast appearance last month with a former colleague of the author’s, 2022 Bona graduate Ryan Bowlin.

“I’m never going to forget where I came from,” Osunniyi said during a 16-minute interview with Bowlin in mid-February. “Bona gave me the opportunity when I was coming out of prep school and coach (Mark) Schmidt gave me the opportunity to come here and be a part of that program for four years. I’m grateful for him and everything that I’ve done there. I’m not gonna forget my roots and just act like that.

“Bona will forever be home, so I will always claim Bonaventure as the original place I started at. That’s what got me started, that’s what got me in this position to even have Power 5 schools want me to come play for their team.”

He added, “I’m never gonna just throw Bonaventure aside. I love Bonaventure too much, the place is too close to my heart to just forget about it like that.”

(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at jbutler@oleantimesherald.com)

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