RICHMOND, Va. — Coming off their best win of the season at VCU, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies turn their attention six miles westward, where they will face the Richmond Spiders at the Robbins Center Wednesday night.
The Bonnies have stayed in Virginia’s capital since Friday to avoid unnecessary travel, meaning their current stay in Richmond will be the longest trip of the season.
Bona has even held practices on Dick Tarrant Court, which can only help this young team grow acclimated to the depth perceptions of the Robbins Center. That said, it’s been business as usual for the Bonnies.
“It’s not a big difference,” Mark Schmidt said when I asked about his team’s extended stay in Richmond. “We don’t do anything. We practice and have team meals. Practice and have team meals. It’s just like being at home. We have study hall too. Instead of staying in your dorm room, you are staying in a hotel room. We do the exact same stuff. I sit in my hotel room and watch tape. I would be doing the same thing in my office. There’s no difference.”
Wednesday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.
Bona has already played the Spiders this season, as the Brown and White prevailed over Richmond 71-64 at the Reilly Center on Jan. 14.
But as the adage goes, it is hard to beat a team twice.
It’s even more difficult to beat Richmond on their home floor, where they have lost just twice this season.
And yet, this Spider team has struggled as of late. Richmond has lost three games in a row, and four of their last five, which includes their loss at the Reilly Center.
VCU and UMass defeated Richmond by 12 and nine points, respectively. Then, last Saturday, the Dayton Flyers rolled over the Spiders by 26, dropping Chris Mooney’s team to 11-11 on the season and 4-5 in conference play.
“It’s so hard to win any game in the Atlantic 10,” said Schmidt, whose Bonaventure squad also has an 11-11 record. “Richmond has played a tough stretch, but they played against good teams. Winning on the road is very difficult, so we expect their best. But we would expect their best if they were on a three-game winning streak too. For us to win or be competitive, we need to play really, really well. Like every team in this league, [the Spiders] play and shoot the ball much better at home, so we need to play that much better than we did at our place if we expect to compete.”
The first matchup between these teams featured two completely different halves. Bona looked lost offensively during the first 20 minutes of play. Consequently, Richmond jogged into the locker room with a 29-to-23 lead.
Bonaventure then caught fire, namely Daryl Banks III and Moses Flowers, who finished the game with 20 points apiece. Kyrell Luc added 17 during that matinee too. This trio of guards helped the Bonnies outscore Richmond 48-to-34 in the second half.
But this all means nothing for Wednesday’s game.
“With a young team that we have, and playing a tough team like Richmond, it’s hard to simulate what they do with their Princeton offense,” Schmidt added. “Seeing their offense up close and personal helps, but that’s not going to have any bearing on this game Wednesday. We need to play that much better than we did at our place if we expect to compete.”
Mooney’s team has run the complicated Princeton offense for years, which emphasizes constant movement, back-door cuts, and off-ball screens. Richmond also has shooters all over the floor, yet their 3-point shots have not fallen during conference play.
The Spiders rank 13th in the Atlantic 10 in 3-point shooting since league play commenced, per KenPom.
This deficiency was displayed in Richmond’s most recent setback to Dayton, as they shot just 4-of-18 from beyond the arc in the loss. Nothing seemed to work for the Spiders, except for Isaiah Bigelow’s contributions from the bench.
Bigelow, the 6-foot-7 senior transfer from Wofford, scored 19 against the Flyers as he currently averages 8.9 points per game (PPG), good for third on the team.
He scored 13 at the Reilly Center a couple of weeks back too.
Two other Spiders scored in double-figures against Bona: Tyler Burton and Matt Grace.
Burton, who will likely finish the season as a member of an Atlantic 10 all-conference team, had 15 against the Bonnies the first time around. He leads the Spiders in scoring, averaging 19 PPG, which ranks second in the league behind George Washington’s James Bishop IV.
The 6-foot-7 senior from Uxbridge, Massachusetts grabs 7.6 rebounds per game, leading the team.
For the Bonnies to pick up their second straight win in Virginia, they must neutralize Burton. He can score in many ways, as Bona will need to force the Richmond offense to go through other players is a recipe for success.
With that said, Bona cannot leave Grace wide open, either.
Grace led Richmond in scoring with 16 on Jan. 14. He has played inconsistently to date but can still score from inside and out.
Speaking of inconsistency, the Bonaventure freshmen have defined it over the course of Atlantic 10 play.
Yann Farell and Barry Evans have struggled at times, but they have rebounded quite nicely over the past couple of weeks.
Farell poured in five triples at VCU, tying Moses Flowers for a game-high 15 points in the victory. Evans chipped in with four points and four boards, but his steal and slam in the second half gave the Bonnies a much-needed momentum boost.
St. Bonaventure rode on the backs of their freshmen in one of the most hostile environments in the league, which ultimately paved the way for Bona’s first road victory of the season.
“It gives our guys confidence that good things can happen if they play the game the right way, give a good effort, and execute,” Schmidt noted. “You learn how to win by winning. We put ourselves in position to do so, and we made the plays at the end. It can only help us. That momentum is only fleeting; it will only last until the first possession of the Richmond game.”
The Bonnies have struggled away from the Reilly Center this year, winning just two out of 11 neutral/road games.
But something tells me that the Brown and White will find a way to victory once again in Richmond. Although Schmidt did not mention this, having your team stay and dine together for five consecutive days can only boost team comraderie and morale.
It certainly cannot hurt.
And with Richmond trending in the wrong direction, the Bonnies are catching the Spiders at the right time.
Give me the Bonnies in a nail-biter, as Chad Venning does wonders in the paint again as he leads Bona to their second straight road victory.
St. Bonaventure 66, Richmond 64
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 Scott Eddy, Assistant Athletic Director for Strategic Communications at St. Bonaventure University.