RICHMOND, Va. — The last time the St. Bonaventure Bonnies played in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Brown and White defeated the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2022 NIT Quarterfinals. Kyle Lofton’s free throws with five seconds to go and Osun Osunniyi’s game-sealing block as time expired punched Bona’s ticket to Madison Square Garden in dramatic fashion.
More than ten months later, the Bonnies have not won a true road game since.
On Saturday, Bona travels back to Virginia for the first time since the NIT, where they will face the VCU Rams and a raucous sold-out crowd at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond.
The game airs on CBS Sports Network and will tip at 6 p.m.
“We need to play hard, consistently, and better on the road than at home,” Mark Schmidt acknowledged to the media Friday. “If you looked at the newspaper today, 90% of the teams that played on the road last night lost. It’s just that much harder. It’s the environment. You’re uncomfortable, so you have to play that much better. But the more experience you get playing on the road, the better you will get. You need to handle adversity better, but you need to do everything better on the road than you do at home to win. We have not done it yet. We have not played well enough on the road to do that.”
The Bonnies will face perhaps their most difficult challenge of the season Saturday at VCU.
The Rams boast a conference-leading record of 7-1. They have won 11 of their last 12 and have a 16-5 record overall.
VCU has played so well as of late that they have re-entered At-Large bid discussions, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Right now, the Atlantic 10 will only send one team to the NCAA Tournament, but if VCU keeps trending in the right direction, the Rams could represent the conference as an At-Large if they do not win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Like VCU teams of the past, their “Havoc” full-court pressure defense has vaulted the Rams up the conference standings and back into the national discussion.
VCU’s defensive efficiency ranks 25th nationally and first in the Atlantic 10, according to KenPom. The Rams force turnovers on 25.4% of their defensive possessions, an incredible rate. That mark ranks fourth nationally, per KenPom.
“We need to handle their pressure,” Schmidt said. “Their full-court pressure and their half-court pressure. We need to handle their crowd too, but the biggest thing we need to handle is their pressure.”
The Bonnies have faced full-court pressure before.
When Bona played against Iona in Brooklyn in December, the Gaels stymied the young Bonnies with their full-court press. But Rick Pitino’s Gaels trap on the first pass. VCU operates its defense with “a more run-and-jump style.”
“I don’t think you can take anything away from that game except that [VCU] will bring similar pressure, but from different angles,” Schmidt said when I asked him to draw comparisons between the Iona and VCU defenses.
The Gaels did not trap ball screens, whereas VCU, who has nine players average at least 11 minutes per game, traps all over the floor.
Adrian “Ace” Baldwin Jr. leads the team in minutes, averaging 34.6 per game. Baldwin serves as the catalyst, point guard, and, frankly, the essential piece of this VCU Rams team.
“It will take our whole team to slow him down,” Schmidt said of Baldwin. “We can’t turn the ball over and let him out in the open court. We need to do a good job on ball screens. Once he gets below the foul line, he’s an outstanding player. He’s a good player anyways in all aspects of the game. But when he gets below that foul line, he has a tremendous IQ. He can shoot it, score it, and deliver it. He’s a big key.”
Baldwin averages just a shade under 12 points per game (PPG) and also dishes out six assists per game, which ranks second in the Atlantic 10.
In VCU’s most recent game, a 72-to-52 home victory over George Mason, Baldwin scored nine points, grabbed nine rebounds, and recorded seven assists. He had two swipes on defense too.
Baldwin will provide the Bonnies with yet another challenge.
Speaking of challenges, the Brown and White have struggled as of late.
At Loyola Chicago, a game in which the Ramblers recorded their first conference win as a member of the Atlantic 10, the Bona backcourt of Kyrell Luc, Daryl Banks III, and Moses Flowers combined to make just seven field goals.
Then four nights later, at the Reilly Center versus Fordham, Banks III scored 29, but the rest of his team combined to make just 11 shots from the floor.
The offense has not played well. Shots have not fallen, turnovers have been plentiful, and the Bonnies have not done a good job of getting the ball to the paint.
If Bona wants to pull off the upset at VCU, they have to get the ball inside to Chad Venning, the 6-foot-10 center from Brooklyn, New York.
Venning averages 11.2 PPG and 5.4 rebounds per game. He has scored 12, 16, and eight points over the last three games.
The Rams do not have a player of Venning’s size, with forward Jalen Deloach standing as VCU’s tallest player at 6-foot-9. But Deloach weighs 215 pounds. Venning comes in at 270.
Hence the importance of Venning staying out of foul trouble, which is hard to do against VCU’s offense—an offense that loves to slash and cut to the paint.
But fouls reared their ugly head once again versus Fordham. Venning fouled out with over seven minutes to go. Flowers reached the disqualifying limit too. Luc and Yann Farell also had four infractions, while Banks III and Barry Evans had three.
The whistles are going to blow Saturday, especially at VCU. The Bonnies need to be mindful of this, or else Saturday’s game could get out of hand quickly.
J.P. Butler of the Olean Times Herald wrote an excellent column drawing analogies between the 2023 and 2013 Bonnies. Back in 2013, the last time Bona lost to Fordham, Schmidt’s Bonnies experienced a rebuilding year following the graduation of St. Bonaventure Hall of Famer Andrew Nicholson.
The same can be said this season, following the Iron Man Five’s departure in the spring of 2022.
If we look back at that 2013 roster, Dion Wright was a freshman, Youssou Ndoye and Jordan Gathers were sophomores, and Matthew Wright and Charlon Kloof were juniors. Each of these players developed that season and morphed into key players that helped carry the Bonnies to the conference semifinals in the 2014 Atlantic 10 Tournament.
This year’s Bonnies are young and inexperienced, and they have learned a lot during each game, similar to that 2013 team.
The Brown and White are not in the same class as this year’s VCU team; unfortunately, a national television audience will see that Saturday. It’s a rebuilding year, and Bonaventure fans should feel fortunate that this team remains competitive in most of its games. Think long-term hope, not short-term heartbreak, when watching Saturday’s game.
I see VCU winning big as the Rams claim their eighth conference victory.
Virginia Commonwealth 66, St. Bonaventure 51
Jack Milko is a current graduate student at St. Bonaventure University. He will graduate with an M.A. in Sports Journalism in May 2023. He also covers the Bonnies for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure ’20.