KINGSTON, R.I. – The St. Bonaventure Bonnies have defined inconsistency through 16 games this season. Some nights, Bona looks unstoppable. Other times, the Brown and White play as if they have yet to practice. But the only constant for SBU’s 2022-23 campaign is that they have struggled to have any success on the road.
The Bonnies have played in five true road games.
Six if you count the “neutral” contest against South Dakota State in Sioux Falls, South Dakota—and seven if you add the loss to the Iona Gaels in Brooklyn. The Barclays Center lies 26 miles south of New Rochelle, where Iona College is located.
At any rate, in those seven games, Bona has an 0-7 record.
They hope to pick up their first road victory of the season at lowly Rhode Island on Wednesday. The Rams, now led by former Dayton coach Archie Miller, currently sit at 5-10 with a 1-2 record in the conference.
Tip-off from the Ryan Center is at 7 p.m., and the game will again air on ESPN+.
“We have to win a game on the road. That’s the bottom line,” said Mark Schmidt, the St. Bonaventure coach. “You have to play that much better on the road than at home. Veteran teams are more successful on the road because they understand what it takes. Younger teams don’t. We must grow up and get a bit more mature to understand what it takes to win in the Atlantic 10 in a hostile environment.
As we all know by now, the Bonnies return zero minutes from a season ago and have one of the youngest rosters in the country.
With a record of 8-8, seven of those victories have come at the Reilly Center. The stats show that Bona shoots better on their home floor too.
“You never shoot better on the road; you always shoot better at home,” Schmidt noted. “You’re just more comfortable.”
Can the Bonnies get comfortable at the Ryan Center?
That’s the million-dollar question.
No Bonaventure team has won at Rhode Island since Feb. 9, 2013, when Eric Mosley scored 21 points en route to a 67-to-61 victory.
But Wednesday’s game is a solid opportunity for Bona to put their road blues behind them and shake off a decade-long drought in the Ocean State.
Like the Bonnies, the Rams have plenty of youth and lack Atlantic 10 veterans. But this does not mean they lack solid players.
“They have good players. [Ishmael] Leggett and [Malik] Martin are really good, “Schmidt said when discussing this year’s Rhody team.” They don’t have mature or veteran guys inside; they’re more perimeter-oriented. But they really push it and play defense. They rebound at a high level. [The Rams] play aggressively like Archie [Miller’s] personality. They’re still learning, just like us, trying to figure it out. But they have Atlantic 10 talent, especially with their guards.
“They push the ball in transition and try to play downhill. Offensively, they have lots of ball screens; they roll, then attack. Defensively, it’s mainly half-court to try to deny the entry passes. They’re aggressive with athletic kids that play downhill. They attack the offensive glass and do a good job on the backboard overall.”
One of the guards that Schmidt mentioned is Leggett, the 6-foot-3 guard from Prince George’s County, Maryland. In his third season at Rhody, Leggett leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game (PPG). He can shoot the 3-ball as he has converted on 45.7% of his attempts from beyond the arc at the Ryan Center this season.
Leggett has scored in double-figures in each of Rhody’s three Atlantic 10 games thus far and even had a double-double at La Salle. But his career-high 11 rebounds were not enough as the Explorers defeated the Rams in overtime, 77-to-75, on Jan. 7.
This young Rhode Island team has yet to win a true road game too, but that statistic means nothing for Wednesday’s matchup.
Yet, it demonstrates the difficulty of conference road games and emphasizes the point Schmidt made about how young teams need to learn what it takes to win on the road.
Veteran players struggle away from home too.
Daryl Banks III, the Bona junior who leads his team in scoring at 16.4 PPG, shoots 47.4% from 3-point range at the Reilly Center but just 24.4% on the road. He most recently had his worst game as a Bonnie, as Banks III failed to record a field goal in the 78-to-55 loss at St. Louis and scored just one point.
“He’s taken thousands and thousands of shots in the Reilly Center,” Schmidt remarked when I asked him about this discrepancy. “I would assume he took just 50 at St. Louis before the game. It’s just the way it is.”
Banks III is not the only Bonnie to struggle on the road this season.
The entire team has.
Aside from the overtime loss at Canisius on Nov. 12, Bona has failed to score more than 70 points in the seven games not played in the Reilly Center.
Against a tough Rhode Island defense, eclipsing the 70-point mark will be hard to come by. Rhody ranks in the top 100 nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, and 2-point field goal percentage. The Rams have also averaged 41 rebounds per game in conference play.
So how can the Bonnies take care of business in Rhode Island?
First and foremost, this young team needs to avoid foul trouble.
At halftime of the St. Louis game, Bona faced a 39-to-23 deficit. Yet, St. Louis went 12-of-13 from the free-throw line over the opening 20 minutes while the Bonnies did not attempt a single one.
So the fouling game goes both ways: on defense, this team must play with their feet and not get too aggressive by reaching with their hands. Freshman Yann Farell, Barry Evans, and Anouar Mellouk have fallen into this trap often this season. Big man Chad Venning has too.
Indeed, these young players will not learn everything overnight, but by the season’s end, the hope has to be that they know how to play legal, physical defense against fellow Atlantic 10 teams.
Fouls have reared their ugly head on the offensive end too, whether its Farell driving into the lane uncontrollably or the officials whistling Venning for a moving screen.
On the flip side, Bona has to get more aggressive and attack the rim. When that happens, officials blow their whistles, which puts the Bonnies at the free-throw line.
Schmidt always talks about the importance of getting to the charity stripe. After all, free throws are called “free” for a reason. Games are won and lost at the free-throw line.
Having a diversified offensive approach will help too.
Venning had a career day at St. Louis, notching 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting. Moses Flowers also chipped in with 15 points off the bench as he was the lone Bonnie to make a 3-pointer. He drained three of them.
“It’s the guys that finish the game, not the guys that start the game,” Schmidt said when I asked him about the possibility of inserting Flowers into the starting lineup. “He’ll be right where he is and give us a scoring punch off the bench. He’s done a really good job so far, and we need him to play even better.”
Wednesday’s game at Rhode Island is huge for the Brown and White. Following this game at the Ryan Center, Bona returns home to face Richmond and Duquesne, two of the Atlantic 10’s top teams so far.
Winning at Rhody would not only boost morale and give Bona its first road win of the season, but it would also pay dividends in the conference standings before an important homestand.
I think the Bonnies do just that. Rhode Island’s a tough team, but this game will feature plenty of defense and not a whole lot of scoring.
I also believe Banks III rebounds and hits some clutch shots for the Brown and White down the stretch.
Give me the Bonnies in a slugfest.
St. Bonaventure 63, Rhode Island 60
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.