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VCU set for road rematch against Davidson

For just the second time in conference play, the VCU Rams men’s basketball team will be coming off a loss on Tuesday night.

This most recent loss, to a slumping St. Bonaventure team at home on Saturday evening, marked the second time VCU (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic 10) has lost at home as a double-digit favorite. The loss dropped VCU behind Saint Louis in both the A-10 standings and our site’s power rankings and has popped any remaining at-large bubble the Rams may have had.

The game against the Bonnies (11-11, 5-4 A-10) was a rock fight of a defensive battle. VCU held the Bonnies to just 18 first-half points, but the Bonnies kept the Rams within arm’s reach by giving up just 23 points in the first half.

Couple that with foul trouble for Ace Baldwin and Jalen DeLoach and a season-low 2-for-15 from behind the 3-point line, and you get the exact game that Bonnies’ head coach Mark Schmidt wanted his team to play. Most notable was the contribution of freshman guard Yann Farell, who scored a game-high 15 points – all courtesy of 3-pointers. His five 3-pointers were as many as every other player – on both teams – made combined.

Junior Moses Flowers scored 15 points of his own, including an impressive 3-for-6 from deep, while sophomore Chad Venning was the most effective paint player in the game. Venning fouled out in the game’s final minute, departing with 13 points on 6-for-12 shooting.

Baldwin made his usual impact, leading the Rams with 15 points and six assists. But he committed his third foul of the game early in the second half, sending Baldwin to the bench and allowing the Bonnies to capitalize. His 31 minutes played was the second-lowest mark of the conference slate.

DeLoach was also hampered by a four-foul evening, including drawing his fourth technical of the season during the second half for taunting. He did continue his tear on the glass, securing 12 rebounds to pair with 12 points for his third double-double of the season.

Ultimately, the Rams could not overcome a Bonnies team who effectively used double teams to neutralize some of VCU’s offensive threats while also shooting 47.1% from deep. The Bonnies pulled ahead during the opening portions of the second half when Baldwin was out and never surrendered the lead, securing the win after a potential game-tying 3-pointer from Baldwin clanged off the rim at the buzzer.

Following the loss, the Rams will head down south for the first repeat matchup of the season: a Tuesday night tilt at Belk Arena against the defending A-10 regular-season champion Davidson Wildcats. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. and air on CBS Sports Network.

Meet your opponent

The last time VCU went to Belk Arena, Davidson was nationally ranked, Bob McKillop was patrolling the sidelines of the court that bears his name, and forward Luka Brajkovic was on his way to A-10 Player of the Year honors and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

What a difference a year makes.

After 33 years as the head man in Davidson, McKillop – the dean of A-10 coaches – announced his retirement on June 17. McKillop departed as by far the most successful coach in Davidson history after leading the Wildcats to a 27-7 record, a conference regular season championship and an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. For his efforts, McKillop earned the A-10 Coach of the Year award – his 11th coach of the year award between the A-10 and Southern Conference.

Taking McKillop’s place is his son and longtime Davidson assistant, Matt McKillop. McKillop took the reins during an obvious year of transition – aside from his father’s retirement, Brajkovic graduated and plays professionally overseas.

In addition to Brajkovic, sharpshooter Hyunjung Lee and top contributor Michael Jones have left Davidson.

The year of transition has found Davidson in an unusual place – towards the bottom of the A-10. Heading into Tuesday, the Wildcats are 3-6 in the A-10 and 10-11 overall, putting the perennial contender down in 13th place in the conference. The Wildcats are 1-5 in the last six games, punctuated by a four-point loss to conference leaders Saint Louis on Friday in an ESPN showcase game.

The Wildcats’ two leaders are the team’s most significant returners – senior Foster Loyer and junior Sam Mennenga. Loyer will be on the floor often, as the former Michigan State Spartan leads the team playing 87.8% of all minutes.

On the season, Loyer averages 15.3 points per game. His best attribute may be his acumen as a free throw shooter – he has just eight misses from the line in 83 attempts. He is also an excellent distributor, dishing out 4.6 assists per game. His assist rate ranks among the top 150 in the country, while his per game rate ranks fourth in the conference.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer is Mennenga, who averages 16 points per game. The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior does not share Loyer’s prowess at the free throw line, shooting just above 58% from the charity stripe.

Aside from that, Mennenga can score in a variety of ways, including a team-high 37.5% from 3-point range.

Mennenga is also a talented rebounder, grabbing 7.7 boards per game. His per game rate puts him among the top rebounders in the A-10, while his usage on 27.9% of possessions puts him at the top of the board on his team.

While Mennenga and Loyer are the only Wildcats averaging double figures, sophomore Desmond Watson is just a hair below that mark at 9.9 points per game. Watson has started the last seven games after beginning the season on the bench and has answered the call with double digit scoring nights in five of the last six games. He has also not missed a free throw since the Jan. 11 loss to Richmond – a streak stretching over four games (although he did not attempt a free throw on Friday).

Last meeting: VCU 89, Davidson 72

These two teams squared off on Jan. 7 at the Siegel Center in Richmond. Coincidentally, VCU was also coming off a conference loss that night – that time thanks to Tre Clark’s offensive explosion for Duquesne.

VCU answered on that night with 89 points – the team’s best offensive game of the conference slate. Five Rams scored double figures, led by Baldwin’s 19 points.

The Baltimore native, the game’s most valuable player according to KenPom, also provided eight assists on the night, the first of two such performances.

Graduate student David Shriver began his hot streak from behind the arc that night, scoring 18 points on 6-for-8 from deep. The game marked the beginning of a four game stretch where Shriver shot 17-for-23 from deep – a rate of nearly 74%.

Joining the pair in double figures were Brandon Johns Jr. (14), Jayden Nunn (12) and Jamir Watkins (10). Johns led the team in rebounds with four, as the Rams lost the rebound battle to the Wildcats 29-21.

Davidson’s great night on the glass, led by Reed Bailey’s nine boards, did not translate to scoring success. The Wildcats hung close for the first 10 minutes, but were outscored 51-35 in the middle 20 minutes of the game.

Mennenga led all scorers with 20 points – his second straight game with 20 or more points – while Watson and Grant Huffman provided 19 and 16 points respectively.

VCU won the game with the 3-pointer, connecting from deep 15 times. Davidson shot just 2-for-11 from 3-point range, dooming the Wildcats despite shooting above 60% from inside the arc.

Keys to the game

The top key to the game for VCU is glaringly obvious – the Rams cannot afford to shoot 2-for-15 from deep again.

The Rams struggled early in the season on the offensive end before being buoyed in recent games by the 3-ball, led by Shriver’s electric shooting output. Getting Shriver the opportunity for good looks – he only shot two 3-pointers in the St. Bonaventure loss – is key to getting the offense going.

The Rams also must keep Baldwin and DeLoach out of foul trouble. Baldwin makes VCU better, as evident by his ability as a distributor. Per KenPom, Baldwin’s 35.7 assist rate puts the point guard 14th in the country in that metric, while his 3.7% steal percentage ranks 70th in the nation. The minutes he was not on the floor for against the Bonnies gave the Bonnies a lead they never surrendered – VCU needs to avoid making runs like that possible.

DeLoach has committed three or more fouls in eight consecutive games, fouling out three times. As the team’s leading rebounder and one of the driving engines of the first-team offense, VCU must keep DeLoach clean of fouls to enable him to be available throughout the contest.

Aside from that, VCU will look to Jamir Watkins to continue leading the second unit offensively, while depending on the defensive prowess of Nick Kern to prevent the early-game runs VCU routinely gave up early in conference play. Johns will also be tasked with slowing down Mennenga, who will look to once again lead the Wildcats on offense.

KenPom projects VCU as slight one-point road favorites with a 56% chance of winning.