ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – In his session with the media on Tuesday afternoon, St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt emphasized the notion that every game is an important one.
“Every game is a big game,” Schmidt remarked. “Our guys work all season. [The team] is here all summer. They’re in the weight room [lifting]. They are doing everything for 31 opportunities to put this uniform on. They’ll be ready to play [Wednesday] because they know how important it is.”
Now with a record of 7-1, and still receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, the Bonnies play host to the Loyola Maryland Greyhounds (5-4, 0-0) of the Patriot League on Wednesday.
Tip off from the Reilly Center is at 7 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN+.
Especially with two huge games against UCONN and Virginia Tech coming up, the Bonnies cannot afford to take the Greyhounds lightly.
When asked how to describe his team’s next opponent, Schmidt used the word “confident.”
With that, let’s take a look at the “confident” Greyhounds, a team that has not lost since before Thanksgiving.
Scouting the Loyola Greyhounds
For starters, Loyola has a tremendous backcourt with very talented guards.
Cameron Spencer, a 6-foot-4 junior guard from Davidsonville, Maryland, currently averages close to 19 points per game (PPG). He exploded for 26 the last time out, which was a home victory over Mount St. Mary’s.
“Spencer is a really good player,” Schmidt said when asked about Loyola’s star guard. “He’s got an old-man’s game. He’ll be scoring 50 points when he is 50 years old playing at the Y. That’s the type of game he has. [He’s] really talented [and has] a high IQ.”
Spencer has scored at least 12 points in every game this season. In an early November game at the College of Charleston, a venue that Bonnies fans are now very familiar with, Spencer scored 32 points, despite making just one three-pointer.
He’s great in the mid-range and loves cutting to the basket.
Spencer is a phenomenal free-throw shooter too. He has made 40 of 45 attempts thus far, which equates to almost 89%.
Alongside him in the backcourt is Jaylin Andrews, who now averages 13.9 PPG. Over his last two games, Andrews scored 30 and 17, respectively. Andrews, a 6-foot-4 senior guard from Owings Mills, Maryland, has drained nine three-pointers during that same span. But before that, over the course of a three-game stretch, he was 0 for 15 from beyond the arc.
With that said, three-pointers are not necessarily a staple of the Loyola offense. They have made just 29.7% of their three-point attempts, which ranks 289th in the country, according to KenPom.
The Greyhounds score in a different, old-school type of way.
Loyola Coach Tavaras Hardy employs the famous Princeton offense, which consists of numerous sets predicated on off-ball screens and back-door cuts. When executed to perfection, the Princeton is a sight to behold.
“[Loyola] runs the Princeton style with back-doors and stuff, they try to [outsmart] you,” Schmidt noted. “They are really well coached. They run their stuff really, really well.”
Hardy originally learned the Princeton offense while playing for Coach Bill Carmody at Northwestern.
Before taking the Northwestern job in 2000, Carmody coached at Princeton for 18 years. He spent 14 of those years as an assistant to Pete Carril before succeeding him as the head coach for four seasons. Of course, Carril created the Princeton offense, which brought him to 11 career NCAA Tournaments.
Today at Loyola, Hardy is trying to do the same. Already in his fourth year with the Greyhounds, Hardy has struggled to have sustained success. He has yet to finish a season above .500. Loyola has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2012.
But playing against the Princeton offense will be very beneficial to the Bonnies as the Richmond Spiders run similar sets.
“It’s good for us because it will get us ready for Richmond,” Schmidt said. “Our veteran guys have seen this for two, three, four years [whereas] our young guys have not and we have only had two days to prepare. So that is a challenge.”
“In the preseason, we have drills and [we] incorporate different things that teams do during the season. Our guys have seen it in preseason, but they have not seen it live and in person when they are running 100 miles per hour. It’ll be a challenge, especially for the young guys early, [as they will need to] adapt to the speed that they run it at. But it’s principles. It’s fundamentals. You can’t get back-cut. There are a lot of things to it. It’s a challenge for the young guys so hopefully they play well for us.”
Bona will need to keep the Loyola guards in check while also making sure that they do not get beat by the backdoor cuts of the Princeton offense.
How Do The Bonnies Keep the Momentum Going?
Coming off a big rivalry win over Buffalo, the Bonnies cannot afford to take their foot off the gas pedal.
Bona needs to continue playing stout defense and utilizing their bench while star point guard Kyle Lofton remains unavailable.
Before the Buffalo game last Saturday, Bona gave up a combined 171 points against Northern Iowa and Coppin State. Aside from those two games, Bona has allowed its opponents to score just 58.6 PPG, which would rank 24th in the country right now. But because of those two outliers, the Bonnies have given up 65.4 PPG, which is tied for 115th nationally. For what it’s worth, Bona shares that statistic with the Duke Blue Devils.
The guys on the @SBUnfurled Podcast made a terrific point regarding Bona’s defense over the past couple of weeks. Supposedly, following the Thanksgiving holiday, a nasty flu bug made its way around the St. Bonaventure campus, which may explain why both Quadry Adams and Linton Brown missed time with non-COVID related illnesses. Perhaps more members of the team fell ill with this bug. If that were the case, this might explain why Bona appeared to be somewhat sluggish against both Northern Iowa and Coppin State. As we all know, one’s stamina is not at 100% when having the flu. Just ask Michael Jordan.
But on Saturday against Buffalo, the Bona defense returned to its pre-Thanksgiving self. The Bonnies stuffed UB’s Josh Mballa inside, only allowing him to score two points. Bona forced the Bulls to shoot just 40% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc. Furthermore, the Bonnies out-rebounded Buffalo 42 to 34 and recorded nine blocks.
Hopefully this defensive trend can continue.
“We want to keep the ball in the half-court,” Schmidt said when asked about defending Loyola’s Princeton offense. “[We also need to] keep the ball above the foul-line defensively.”
Defense has become Bona’s bread and butter and it will need to show up again if the Bonnies want to improve to 8-1.
Of course, the bench will need to show up again too.
Adams, Brown, and Karim Abdul Coulibaly played a combined 54 minutes. Granted, Adams got the start in place of Lofton, so he was bound to get ample playing time. He and Brown each played 20 minutes. All three of these role players had their best games thus far. Sure, Coulibaly had 12 points against Siena and ten against Coppin State, but the Pittsburgh transfer stepped in when Osun Osunniyi was in foul trouble and played terrific defense against a Top 75 team in Buffalo. He ended up with six points and four rebounds.
Adams and Brown combined to score 16 points, all of which were needed to set up Jalen Adaway’s game winner at the end of regulation.
Against a younger Loyola team, who is currently ranked 210th in the NET rankings and 285th on KenPom, the bench should not only get some solid minutes, but also a confidence boost. Hopefully Schmidt draws up more plays for “Downtown” Linton Brown, who made a couple of three-pointers against Buffalo.
For the second game in a row, the Bonnies will be without Kyle Lofton.
Senior guard Jaren Holmes will once again handle the point guard duties, and despite going 3-17 from the field against Buffalo, Holmes still had one of his best games as a Bonnie. The Romulus, Michigan native dished out eight assists to go along with three rebounds. He poured his heart and soul into that game by sharing the wealth beautifully and locking down defensively.
Knowing how great of an offensive player Holmes is, I expect him to find his stroke against Loyola. I also think the bench has another productive outing before heading down to New Jersey to take on #15 UCONN on Saturday.
St. Bonaventure 72, Loyola 59
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.