ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – After hosting a successful homecoming weekend, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (11-5, 4-2 Conf.) open the month of February by playing the Davidson Wildcats (17-3, 7-1 Conf.) on Tuesday night.
Tip-off from the Reilly Center is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will air on CBS Sports Network.
Davidson comes into Western New York as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 16 of their last 17 games.
But to St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt, every game is an important one, no matter who the opponent is.
“It’s a home game,” Schmidt told the media on Monday. “It’s the next game. It’s one of our conference games. We are putting everything into it to see if we can play as well as we can.”
Scouting the Davidson Wildcats
Without a doubt, the Davidson Wildcats are currently the favorites to win the Atlantic 10 in 2022. The ‘Cats have scored big-time wins over Alabama, Richmond, and VCU and are in a prime position to secure an NCAA Tournament berth.
And they have done this all without Kellan Grady, their best player from a season ago. Grady now plays for John Calipari at the University of Kentucky.
“[Davidson] has good players, new players, and veteran players that have improved,” Schmidt said when asked about Davidson’s roster. “But they are running the same stuff. Coach McKillop is one of the best coaches in the country and he runs that system [beautifully]. Trying to simulate that motion offense in practice is very difficult for our scout team. So having a veteran team that has played several games against it really helps, but it’s still hard to guard. They have the big kid inside, and that forces us to double-team. Then they have shooters that surround him.”
“Coach McKillop hasn’t won a zillion games by having bad players and running a bad offense,” Schmidt added.
It certainly feels like Davidson has won a zillion games just this season.
One of the main reasons why is because of Foster Loyer, who transferred to Davidson from Michigan State. He served as a team captain for Tom Izzo just a season ago.
This year, Loyer averages 15.5 points per game (PPG) and shoots 46.3% from three-point range.
“He’s smart, tough, and has a high skill level,” Schmidt said when asked about Loyer. “He’s a great leader. Playing for Coach Izzo for a couple of years toughens you up a little bit. He’s perfect for how Davidson plays. He can read screens. He’s good enough to get by people. He’s one of the reasons why they are having the success that they are having.”
Back in December, Loyer exploded for 35 points at Northeastern and followed that up with 24 more versus Radford.
He also ranks fourth in the country in free-throw shooting, having made 69-of-73 of his attempts this season. For the mathematicians out there, that equates to 94.5%.
But the key to this Davidson offense is Luka Brajkovic, the 6-foot-10 senior forward from Austria.
Last season, Brajkovic averaged 10.9 PPG and shot 31.5% from beyond the arc.
This season, he’s one of the most improved players in the Atlantic 10. The Austrian currently averages 14.8 PPG and has made close to 43% of his three-point attempts this year. Over his last four games, Brajkovic has averaged 21.3 PPG. He’s a force to be reckoned with inside, and he can score from the outside on occasion too. The Bonnies will need to do a much better job on him defensively compared to how they played against George Mason’s Josh Oduro last Wednesday.
Another player to watch out for is Hyunjung Lee, the 6-foot-7 junior from South Korea.
Last season, Lee became the first-ever Wildcat to finish the season shooting at least 50% overall, 40% from three-point range, and 90% from the charity stripe. And yes, Steph Curry played three seasons at Davidson. To say Lee can score at all three levels is an understatement. He currently averages 15.9 PPG and shoots 39.2% from beyond the arc.
So you think Loyer, Brajkovic, and Lee are good shooters? How about Michael Jones? Jones is currently shooting a preposterous 47.4% from downtown while attempting 4.8 three-pointers per game. The Woodbury, Minnesota native has been white-hot from deep. Just ask the Richmond Spiders. Back on Jan. 14, at Richmond, Jones erupted for 29 points and went 8-of-9 from three. He even hit the game-winning shot that night too.
As a team, the ‘Cats shoot 40.7% from three-point range, which ranks 4th in the country, per KenPom.
If the Bonnies are going to win, they will need to limit Davidson’s three-point shooting. To do that, they will need to defend as they did against St. Joseph’s, in which Bona limited the Hawks to shoot 5-0f-23 from deep.
“We can’t give them open threes in transition as [the Wildcats] are very good in the open court,” Schmidt said when asked about defending Davidson. “In the half-court, it all starts inside. We have to do a decent job on [Brajkovic] and we gotta be able to guard their stuff. [We have to] guard them off the bounce so they can’t drive and kick and get you in rotations.”
“You gotta contest shots, you can’t give them open threes, and if you do, you gotta hope they miss,” Schmidt added.
So far this season, defending the three-ball has plagued the Bonnies. Teams have shot 35.2% from three against the Brown and White this year, which ranks 263rd nationally, according to KenPom. Last year, Bona ranked 30th in the country in that department. If Bona wants to win this game, they not only need to win the battle of the paint, but they must limit Davidson from making more than ten three-pointers. The Bonnies need to lock down defensively, time their double-teams correctly, and not get lost in the rotations. Those three things did not happen against George Mason, hence why the Patriots won that game wire-to-wire. But if Davidson catches heat at the Reilly Center, which has happened in the past (see Valentine’s Day 2020), then this game will be over quickly.
Since the “Iron-Man Five” of Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Dom Welch, Jalen Adaway, and Osun Osunniyi came together last season, the Bonnies have lost just one home game in conference play.
“Our home court advantage can give us six-to-eight points a game,” said Seth Johnson, who is the Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing, Licensing, and Fan Engagement at St. Bonaventure. “To have the students back here, and having the energy, and being able to feed off that, will be huge for our guys.”
Last Saturday, using the sold-out crowd to provide them with energy, the Bonnies played solid defensively and attacked the rim. They will need to win to get to the paint and get to the free-throw line, to slow down a hot Davidson team that is firing on all cylinders.
Part of me says, “there’s no way the Bonnies can beat Davidson with those shooters.” But the Bonnies are playing on their home floor. Home-court advantage is a legitimate advantage in college basketball.
Plus, it’s a new month. It’s a new game. And the Bonnies are due for a big victory that would send shockwaves to the rest of the conference.
Give me the home team in a nail-biter. I envision Lofton and Holmes getting to the basket with authority once again. They had great success in the paint against St. Joe’s as those two combined to score 33 points.
I also think Adaway matches up well against this Davidson team. He currently averages 15.1 PPG and brings down 6.9 rebounds per game. In conference play alone, Adaway averages 17.6 PPG. All aboard “Flight 33,” Adaway will be the difference maker come Tuesday night.
St. Bonaventure 75, Davidson 72
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.