DAVIDSON, N.C. — On a long and lonesome highway west of Olean, you can listen to the engine moan out its one-note song. You think about that overtime loss or the three that came before.
But your thoughts will soon be wandering the way they always do. When you’re riding down to Carolina, there’s nothing much to do. And you don’t feel much like riding; you just wish the trip was through.
Here they are, on the road again, as the Bonnies need to turn the page.
“The message to the guys is to turn the page and learn from the last game,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt. “Do your best to play your best basketball against Davidson. We need to prepare as well as we can, play our best basketball during the next three games, and try to restore momentum going into the Atlantic 10 tournament. That’s the goal.”
Bona has not won a game since Feb. 4, when they beat Dayton 68-59 at a sold-out Reilly Center.
The Bonnies hope to avoid their fifth straight loss Wednesday at Davidson, a team with a 12-14 record. The Wildcats currently sit in 12th in the Atlantic 10 at 5-9.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will air on NBC Digital online or on the NBC Sports App.
Last season, under coach Bob McKillop, Davidson went 15-3 in Atlantic 10 play, secured the #1 seed at the conference tournament, and shot 38.5% from 3-point range, which ranked 4th nationally.
This year, under coach Matt McKillop, Bob’s eldest son, the Wildcats have made just 32.1% of their attempts from distance. That mark ranks 274th nationally.
“They’re not shooting the ball great at times, and that’s been their strength, which may be why they have struggled a little bit,” Schmidt noted. “But Davidson is fundamentally sound and highly skilled. Every year won’t be perfect, but they are running the same stuff. They have intelligent players. They’re hard to beat when they’re shooting the ball well.”
They’re also tough to beat at home.
Since Davidson joined the Atlantic 10 before the 2014-15 season, the Bonnies have won at Belk Arena only twice—with just one of those victories occurring before a crowd. Bona beat Davidson 56-53 on Feb. 24, 2021.
That lone victory in front of fans came in spectacular fashion. Marcus Posley hit a buzzer-beater to give the Bonnies their 12th win of the season on Feb. 4, 2015.
Outside of these two narrow victories, Bona has struggled at Belk Arena.
They have also struggled on the road this season, losing nine of 11 opportunities away from home.
“It’s not unlike any other place,” Schmidt said when asked about playing at Davidson. “It’s hard to win on the road—I don’t care where you are playing. It’s no different. You have to play that much better away from home, no matter what the crowd is. You need to play well, and that’s the challenge. I have said it over and over again. It’s so hard to win on the road.”
Indeed, winning away from the Reilly Center has proven to be difficult for this Bonaventure team.
To get a rare road victory and beat Davidson, however, Bona must shut down Sam Mennenga, the 6-foot-9 junior forward from Auckland, New Zealand.
Mennenga, who has scored 17 points in two straight games, averages 15.3 points per game (PPG). He leads the team in rebounding, grabbing 6.7 boards per contest.
He does not shoot the 3-pointer often, but when he does, he proves effective. The New Zealander hits 37.5% from beyond the arc this season.
“He makes one [3-pointer per] game, so you will give up something. Hopefully, that one three-pointer does not beat you,” Schmidt said of Mennenga. “You still have to protect inside out first. He’s much more of a danger with the ball on the block. Not that he can’t shoot, but he’s much more effective inside. We need to make sure we’re doing a good job defending the post with him before we worry about the perimeter.”
Mennenga has had a terrific season, thanks in part to his offensive game in the post. He ranks in the Top 100 nationally in shooting 51.2% from the floor.
Foster Loyer has played well this year too.
The former Michigan State Spartan averages 15.6 PPG and dishes out 4.6 assists per game. Yet, he has made only 32.3% of his attempts beyond the arc this season. Last year, he shot 43.8% from distance.
Nonetheless, Loyer has proven as one of the better point guards in the Atlantic 10. The Bonaventure backcourt will have their hands full. After all, Loyer scored 21 at the Reilly Center on Feb. 1, 2022, which helped Davidson beat the Bonnies 81-76.
This year’s contest will likely not feature a score that high, as both offenses have struggled to find points.
The Bonnies rank 265th nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
KenPom’s record base tracks data dating back to 2002, so the Bonnies have not had an offense play this poorly since the 2008-09 season when Bona finished 15-15. They bowed out to Richmond in the first round of the conference tournament that season.
Even then, Bona’s offensive efficiency rating came in at 240th.
The Bonnies have had decent numbers from distance this season, making 34.8% of their attempts. That mark comes in slightly above the Division I average of 34%, according to KenPom.
Where the Bonnies have sorely struggled is within the perimeter. Bona has converted on just 47% of their attempts from inside the arch, which ranks 307th nationally, per KenPom.
The advanced statistics show that this team struggles to convert their mid-range jumpers and bunnies inside, which has been especially true during their current four-game skid.
Against George Washington, the offense looked dead for the first 35 minutes. Chad Venning played nicely but did not receive not much else from others offensively. He finally received some help when the Bonnies made six of their last seven attempts from 3-point range to force overtime in the closing minutes.
Turnovers were not a problem against the Colonials. Bona coughed it up just eight times.
Instead, they shot a woeful 38.2% from the field while attempting 76 shots—not a recipe for success.
Perhaps Yann Farell gets more looks from distance, or Moses Flowers drives more to the hoop.
Something needs to change offensively, or these Bonnies will begin their 2023 Atlantic 10 Tournament in the dreaded first-round pillow fight, which the Brown and White have never experienced under Schmidt.
Nevertheless, the Bonnies hope to turn the page and make more shots in North Carolina.
“We watched the tape; we adjust; and then we teach the team what we did right and wrong, then we move on,” Schmidt said. “That’s what we always do and will continue to do. We lost against George Washington; then we try to make those corrections, show the tape, and work those out on the court. Now it’s time to prepare for a really good Davidson team.”
The Bonnies have not lost five consecutive games since a stretch between Dec. 8, 2018, and Jan. 6, 2019. Bona lost to Buffalo, Vermont, Northeastern, Syracuse, and George Mason before finding some magic down the stretch.
Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin helped lead a trio of freshmen—Kyle Lofton, Dominick Welch, and Osun Osunniyi—to the Atlantic 10 title game, where a Nelson Caputo miss at the buzzer kept the Bonnies from advancing to the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
The problem with this funk is that the Bonnies are reeling during the season’s most crucial time.
Just a couple of short weeks ago, this team had an inside track to the double-bye in Brooklyn. Four losses later, the Bonnies now hope to avoid the first round.
Unfortunately for the Brown and White, they struggle offensively again and make it five losses in a row.
Davidson 66, St. Bonaventure 59
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, and photographer for A10 Talk.