ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — The last time Mark Schmidt faced Fran Dunphy, Matthew Wright scored 22 points to lead St. Bonaventure to their first-ever win at Temple on Jan. 19, 2013. A decade later, Dunphy, who now coaches at La Salle, leads the Explorers into the Reilly Center to take on the Bonnies Wednesday.
Dunphy’s Explorers have won two straight games as La Salle, his alma mater, owns a 10-13 record this season—his first in charge on Olney Avenue.
The Explorers and the Bonnies tip off at 7 p.m., and the game will air on ESPN+.
“His teams play under control and focus on the fundamentals,” Schmidt said of Dunphy. “I have a lot of respect for him. The kids play hard for him. They have some veteran guys, and we were lucky to beat them at their place last year. But many of those guys are back this year, especially their guards. They’re an attacking team, an aggressive team, and they play to those strengths.”
Khalil Brantley and Josh Nickleberry, two of the guards Schmidt indirectly alluded to, lead the Explorers in scoring.
Brantley, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Brooklyn, New York, averages 14.1 points per game (PPG), grabs 4.7 rebounds, and dishes out four assists per contest. A five-tool-player, Brantley has scored in double figures in every conference game except for two.
Last season, when Bona won at La Salle in overtime, Brantley scored ten points and dished out eight assists. He hopes to score more than that in his Reilly Center debut.
Meanwhile, Nickleberry scored 17 against the Bonnies a year ago. The 6-foot-4 senior from Fayetteville, North Carolina averages 10.5 PPG this season and shoots 42.3% from 3-point range away from Tom Gola Arena.
He most recently went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc at St. Joseph’s, a game that La Salle won 73-65 this past Sunday.
“He’s one of the better shooters in our league,” Schmidt said of Nickleberry.
We shall see if he can succeed at the Reilly Center Wednesday.
After all, the Bonnies allow their opponents to shoot just 27.7% from 3-point range, good for 6th nationally per KenPom.
Bona’s perimeter defense has played a considerable role in their three-game winning streak. VCU, Richmond, and Dayton combined to shoot 11-of-60 (18.3%) from beyond the arc, thus vaulting the Brown and White up the standings and into the discussion for a top-four finish in the Atlantic 10.
Yet, the Bonnies have not played perfectly over the past ten days.
At times, they have struggled with allowing second-chance opportunities.
For instance, in the opening minutes against Dayton, the Bonnies gave up plenty of offensive rebounds (the Flyers grabbed nine for the whole game). Consequently, Dayton capitalized on second-chance opportunities and raced out to a 20-13 lead midway through the first half.
If the Bonnies want to win their fourth straight, they cannot let La Salle capitalize on the offensive glass, a strength of this Explorers team.
According to KenPom, La Salle grabs an offensive rebound on 34.5% of their possessions in conference play, ranking first in the Atlantic 10.
“We need to make sure we limit them to one shot,” Schmidt noted. “[The Explorers] are a really good offensive-rebounding team. They have great length. Brantly, as a combo guard, is averaging over two offensive rebounds per game. That’s always an emphasis, but La Salle does a great job on the offensive glass.”
La Salle’s backcourt crashes the offensive boards, but so does the frontcourt.
Fousseyni and Hassan Drame, 6-foot-7 senior twins from Mali in West Africa, average 9.3 and 6.3 PPG, respectively.
Interestingly, this duo played alongside Daryl Banks III at St. Peter’s a season ago.
“They’re good players with high motors: highly skilled, long, and athletic,” Schmidt said of the Drame brothers.
Bona will have their hands full with La Salle’s size, so Yann Farell, Barry Evans, and Moses Flowers will need to work tirelessly on the glass to keep La Salle to one shot per possession.
These three players have each played terrific as of late, especially Farell, who won the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award for the fourth time this season. Against Richmond and Dayton, the Libreville, Gabon native poured in seven 3-pointers and averaged 14.5 PPG.
Chad Venning has played wonderfully as well. The St. Bonaventure Athletics Department awarded Venning with its Athlete of the Week award, which is given every Monday to a male and female Bonnie who displayed a high level of performance in their respective sport.
“He needs to keep playing the way he’s capable of playing,” Schmidt said of Venning. “He has to run the court so he can get some easy baskets. Defend the post. Rebound the ball. It does not change whoever you’re playing. Even though La Salle’s big guys may not run the floor as well as [Dayton’s DaRon] Holmes, you still want your big guy back on defense protecting the rim. Hopefully, [Venning] can play as he did against Dayton.”
Venning turned in another spectacular performance against the Flyers, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds—both a team-high. He swatted away three shots too.
For the season, Venning now averages 11.8 PPG. That mark ranks third on the team behind Kyrell Luc and Banks III.
Luc, who averages 12.2 PPG, uses his nifty athleticism to facilitate the offense and create mid-range jumpers for himself. He chipped in 13 against the Flyers and drained two triples early in the game.
Banks III leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.4 PPG. But the former Peacock scores 19.4 PPG on his home floor. He loves Bob Lanier Court, where he has shot 42.6% from 3-point range this season.
Despite struggling with his shot early on against the Flyers, Banks III turned in a well-rounded performance when the final buzzer sounded.
Every Bonnie did.
But St. Bonaventure can not get complacent following the victory over Dayton.
“We feel good about ourselves for 24 hours; then we go back to work,” Schmidt said. “The Dayton game is forgotten. We have watched the tape and have seen what we did right and what we did wrong. But now we move on to La Salle. You remind the kids that it’s one game at a time. La Salle is the next game, and we need to prepare as well as we did against Dayton. If we don’t, then we are not going to win. It’s about preparing for the next game. All those other games in the rearview mirror will not help us.”
Something has to give.
The La Salle Explorers sail into the Reilly Center with a 2-0 record in the month of February, as they defeated George Washington and St. Joseph’s to begin the year’s shortest month.
But the Bonnies also own a 2-0 record in the month of February, as they now have a record of 7-4 in Atlantic 10 play.
Dating back to last season, the Bonnies have now won nine straight games that they have played in the month of February.
La Salle has good length, athletic guards, and tenacious rebounders. Yet, the Bonnies are the Atlantic 10’s hottest team. Bona currently has the longest winning streak of any team in the conference.
I like the Bonnies to extend their streak to four, further cementing themselves in the conversation for a double-bye bid in Brooklyn. Look for Venning, the Brooklyn, New York native, to have a big game again and help deliver another victory for the Brown and White.
St. Bonaventure 71, La Salle 65
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.