ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Whenever an arctic blast of cold air descends upon the continental United States, Western New York is not a desirable setting. But you can throw that notion out the window and into the snow squalls this Saturday, as the Reilly Center is the place to be.
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies host the Dayton Flyers, the Atlantic 10’s preseason favorite, at 8 p.m.
This game will air in primetime on ESPNU.
Bona enters Saturday’s game on a two-game winning streak, as does the Flyers, who most recently defeated Loyola Chicago in overtime 85-81 Tuesday night.
“We talk about momentum and all of that stuff, but that momentum will end once the ball goes up Saturday night and Dayton scores their first basket,” said Mark Schmidt, the St. Bonaventure coach. “Winning two games should motivate us to work harder. That’s our goal. We are not where we need to be. We did not play perfectly either game in Richmond, so we have much to learn and improve upon. Those were two good victories, but we have a 24-hour rule. Win or lose; it’s on to the next game. Now we are up against a really good, healthy Dayton team. They’re going to be a big challenge.”
Dayton entered the 2022-23 season with sky-high expectations.
Like the 2021-22 St. Bonaventure Bonnies, the Associated Press ranked the Flyers in their preseason Top 25.
Also, like last year’s Bona team, Dayton suffered some tough injuries during the non-conference slate, which led them to have an 8-5 record entering Atlantic 10 play.
Malachi Smith and Kobe Elvis, the starting guards for the Flyers, have combined to miss 26 games. Kobe Brea, another Dayton guard, missed the preseason and six games in November, including all three at the Battle of Atlantis.
The Flyers lost all three games they played in the Bahamas.
Nonetheless, all three guards have returned to the Dayton lineup as the Flyers have started to round into form during conference play.
Smith, a 6-foot sophomore from The Bronx, New York, averages 7.7 points per game (PPG) and 5.8 assists per contest. Yet, he most recently scored 21 in Dayton’s most recent win over the Ramblers.
He played 36 minutes against Loyola Chicago, the most he’s played since the BYU game in the Bahamas on Nov. 25, when the Flyers led at one point 32-to-9, but lost in overtime.
Elvis, also a sophomore, stands at 6-foot-2 and hails from Brampton, Ontario. After suffering an injury in the aforementioned BYU game, Elvis returned to the lineup on Jan. 21, when Dayton lost at George Washington, 76-to-69. In the four games he has played since returning, Elvis has scored eight, 14, eight, and 13. He’s a prolific 3-point shooter; he shoots 41.6% from beyond the arc. He shot 44.4% from 3-point range a season ago.
The Flyers rank first in the Atlantic 10 in 3-point shooting as a team. Dayton has made 41.1% of their attempts from long range, according to KenPom.
Similar to the Bonnies, Dayton, one of the lengthiest teams in the country, does an excellent job at defending the perimeter. Atlantic 10 opponents have made just 29% of their 3-point attempts in conference play, which ranks 2nd behind Bona.
“They are so good defensively because they are big,” Schmidt said. “They play some zone, they’re long, they get a lot of deflections, and they get offense off of their defense. They’re really talented. That’s why they were picked to win the league in the preseason.”
With a record of 7-3 in the Atlantic 10, Dayton sits 1.5 games behind first-place VCU and one game ahead of St. Bonaventure.
Another reason for their resurgence has been the play of DaRon Holmes and Tomani Comara, the two Flyer forwards.
Holmes will get drafted into the NBA this summer.
Yes, he’s that good.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore from Goodyear, Arizona, averages 17.7 PPG and grabs 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s a force to be reckoned with.
On Jan. 10, when Dayton beat Fordham 82-to-58 at Rose Hill, Holmes scored 32 points and grabbed six boards. Although against Loyola Chicago, Holmes scored only four, marking the third game this season that he failed to score in double digits.
Holmes is a classic big man. He does not often shoot from 3-point range, instead opting to work inside.
Hence, the most important matchup for the Bonnies will be how Chad Venning, the 6-foot-10 sophomore from Brooklyn, plays against Holmes.
Venning and the Bonnies will need to limit Holmes’ production to have a chance.
Bonaventure will need to stop Camara, too, the 6-foot-8 junior from Belgium.
Camara dropped 31 points on the Ramblers and grabbed nine rebounds too. He has scored in double figures in every Atlantic 10 game, albeit for one. He scored eight in Dayton’s loss at Rhode Island on Jan. 25.
“[DaRon] Holmes is probably the best big guy in the country running the floor,” Schmidt noted. “He sucks in the guards, which allows them to hit 3-pointers in transition. Transition defense is key. Being able to guard both him and Camara on the block is critical. Defending ball screens too. It’s not just one or two things you have to do well to beat Dayton, you have to do a multitude of things. That’s why they’re so good.”
But that’s not all the Flyers have to offer.
Mike Sharavjamts, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, averages 6.3 PPG off the bench. He’s the only Divison I player to hail from Mongolia, as Dayton fans refer to him as “Mongolian Mike.”
“He’s good. He’s a 6-foot-8 point guard/forward,” Schmidt said of Sharavjamts. “He has a really good understanding of how to play. He has good skills: he can shoot it and take you off the bounce. His size always presents problems too.”
NBA scouts have drooled over Sharavjamts’ game. He’s still raw, but he’s projected to go in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft, meaning the Bonnies may face two future NBA players at the Reilly Center.
St. Bonaventure has defended their home court well this season, as the Bonnies own a 9-2 record on Bob Lanier Court.
Daryl Banks III, who leads the team in scoring, has been a big reason why. He averages 19.8 PPG at home.
In Bona’s most recent home game, a 79-to-68 setback to Fordham, Banks III poured in 29 points. That was his sixth home game this season in which he eclipsed the 20-point threshold.
Although Banks III can light up the Reilly Center on any given night, Venning is the key for the Bonnies.
Bona needs to get the ball inside against Dayton’s formidable defense, which ranks 43rd nationally per KenPom.
During Bona’s most recent road trip, Venning scored 13 and 17 points against VCU and Richmond. His presence inside allowed Bonaventure’s shooters to open up, a big reason why Bona made 8-of-17 from 3-point range at VCU and 8-of-16 from Richmond.
Bona’s 3-point shooting helped the Bonnies sweep the city of Richmond, and Venning had a big effect on making that happen.
Yann Farell, the freshman phenom from Gabon, poured in nine of those 3-pointers against the Rams and the Spiders. He put the team on his back at the Robbins Center, as he finished with 18 points and four rebounds.
Farell has carried himself like a senior during Bonaventure’s last few games. He will need to do so again against the Flyers.
But with Dayton’s length, Barry Evans, the 6-foot-8 freshman, will need to step up defensively too. He did a tremendous job against Richmond’s Tyler Burton, but he will have to replicate that performance against Camara, Sharavjamts, Mustapha Amzil, and RJ Blakney. The latter two stand at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-6, respectively.
Bona’s is the smaller team, but they can pull off the upset if they limit Dayton’s transition opportunities and crash the glass. Dayton ranks fifth in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding at 37.0 per game, while Bona sits at 11th, grabbing 33.6.
The last time the Dayton Flyers lost at the Reilly Center, Andrew Nicholson scored 30 points to lead Bona to victory on Jan. 11, 2012.
The Flyers have dominated the Bonnies ever since, winning 13-of-14 since Nicholson’s senior year.
Bona’s lone victory during this stretch occurred on Feb. 20, 2016, when Jaylen Adams scored 31 at UD Arena. The Flyers were ranked 15th at the time, and this victory paid huge dividends for Bona’s at-large hopes that season…
Nonetheless, the Flyers seem to have St. Bonaventure’s number every year, even though the Bonnies have succeeded against every other Atlantic 10 opponent.
But Dayton has lost their last two road games in conference play, at George Washington, and at Rhode Island.
The Flyers have more talent than the Bonnies, but the white-out environment at the Reilly Center on Saturday will be like no other that they have seen.
Road games are tough. I have a feeling that the home team sneaks past the Flyers, despite recent history saying otherwise. Venning has the size to match Holmes, and I believe he puts in another stellar performance in front of the Bona faithful.
I like the Bonnies to make it three victories in a row, as Bona cements itself in the conversation for the coveted double-bye at the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn.
St. Bonaventure 62, Dayton 61
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.