NEW YORK – St. Bonaventure center Osun Osunniyi didn’t much care that he set the program’s single-season freshman record for blocked shots, swatting three as the Bonnies defeated George Mason, 68-57, in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I’m not really into all the personal awards and stuff like that,” Osunniyi said. “I’m really happy we got the win today. We were up, they made a run, we made a run, but we closed it out in the end and hit our free throws, so I’m happy about that and we have another game (Saturday), so we’re focused on (Saturday).”
Fourth-seeded St. Bonaventure (17-15) will take on No. 8-seeded Rhode Island (18-14) on Saturday for a berth in the conference championship game. The Bonnies must win the title to advance to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Freshmen heavily contributed to Bona’s victory against fifth-seeded George Mason, with guards Kyle Lofton and Dominick Welch grabbing headlines by each scoring 20 points and combining for 10 3-pointers.
But the Bonnies don’t make it to this point without the 6-foot-10, 190-pound Osunniyi, who contributed 7 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks against the Patriots, who were limited to 35 percent shooting.
“We knew coming in Osun was a great shot blocker,” senior forward Courtney Stockard said. “I can’t say that we knew he was going to be setting records like this, but I’m glad he has. He’s been a big defensive presence for us and we’re going to need him going down the road.”
Osunniyi’s three blocks against Mason gave him 84 this season, and he’ll continue to have opportunities to extend that freshman record for as long as the Bonnies keep winning.
He entered the game with 81 blocks, tied for the previous freshman mark set by Andrew Nicholson in 2008-09.
Those 81 blocks were the most by any player in the Atlantic 10 during the regular season and ranked seventh nationally (and tops among freshmen).
“Osun has really elevated our defense,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “The blocked shots … and just his presence there helps our defense immensely.”
“He’s not just a shot blocker,” Stockard said. “He knows how to take charges, so when the other team drives in, you’ve got to be worried about him blocking your shot and you’ve got to be worried about him taking a charge, and that’s what makes him so dynamic.”
Osunniyi was named to the A-10 all-defensive team, and he and Lofton were both named to the all-rookie team, the first time two Bonnies rookies received the honor in the same season.
St. Bonaventure’s defensive effort played a big role in the victory against Mason. It helped keep the Bonnies in the game early, when they were held scoreless for the first five minutes, missing their first six shots.
“We know our offense will come,” Osunniyi said. “As long as we’re playing defense, we’ll be fine. We pride ourselves on defense at Bonaventure, so we know as long as we’re playing defense, our offense will come at some point in the game.”