BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Throughout his tenure at St. Bonaventure, coach Mark Schmidt has always divided the season into thirds: first, the non-conference; second, Atlantic 10 play; and third, the postseason. Each of these is more important than the latter, the most vital being the conference tournament, where we now find ourselves in the first full week of March.
“Everybody is zero-and-zero, but we are going in there with the mindset that we need to play our best,” Schmidt told the media. “It’s a one-game season; we will give it our best shot. That’s how we would approach it if we were going in at 10-0 or 0-10. It’s another game on the schedule that we hopefully play well and win.”
That next game on the schedule will occur in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m. It will televise nationally on USA Network.
As the ninth seed, St. Bonaventure will face number eight Davidson, a team who soundly beat the Bonnies 74-to-61 on Feb. 22.
“I thought we got off to a slow start,” Schmidt said when discussing his team’s efforts at Davidson two weeks ago. “Part of it was we were mesmerized by the Davidson movement. It was the first time we played Davidson in their system, and we have young guys. You try to simulate it in practice, but it’s hard to simulate what they do. I also thought we were heavy-legged. We didn’t do a good job defensively or on the backboard. But in the second half, we played with more energy, made some shots, and we defended a little bit. But it’s hard to come back when you get down by 21 at halftime on the road.”
Three days before that game at Davidson, the Bonnies played an emotional overtime thriller against George Washington. Bona had come back from an 18-point deficit to tie it at the end of regulation, but they could not finish the job in the extra period.
Chad Venning played a career-high 42 minutes against the Colonials, while three other Bonnies played 38 minutes or more. The Brown and White were fatigued, and it showed in the first half at Belk Arena.
But they also ran into Davidson’s two-headed monster: Foster Loyer and Sam Minnenga, who combined to score 51 for the Wildcats.
“We have to make it hard for Mennenga to catch the ball in the paint, and we need to do a better job of sending guys at him if we double,” Schmidt said when discussing Davidson’s two best players. “We need to do a better job on Loyer; we can’t give him open shots. He’s really good. He’s not the most athletic guy, but he’s highly skilled and has a high IQ for the game. Two really good players and two guys that are hard to guard.”
Plenty of other teams have struggled to contain Loyer and Minnenga.
Since scoring 27 on the Bonnies, Loyer, who averages 16.6 points per game, dropped 15 and 16 on Duquesne and George Washington. He then poured in 33 points at Rhode Island in the season finale.
He can score from all over the floor and does an excellent job of getting to the free-throw line, where he shoots 91.8%.
Meanwhile, Mennenga, who torched St. Bonaventure, ended the regular season with a dud. He made just one field goal and finished with five points at Rhode Island, a 68-to-54 Wildcat victory.
Despite that, Mennenga, the 6-foot-9 junior from Auckland, New Zealand, averages 15.5 PPG and leads the team in rebounding, grabbing 6.6 per contest.
He also leads the Wildcats in field-goal percentage (51.5%) and 3-point field-goal percentage (38.2%).
Due to his size and shooting prowess, Mennenga presents all sorts of problems against opposing defenses.
He is constantly on the move too, cutting left and right in the complex Davidson offense.
Mennenga’s movements got Venning out of rhythm, as the Brooklynite played just 24 minutes and fouled out. Venning will need to play at least 30 minutes for the Bonnies to have a chance against the Wildcats. To do that, he must defend with his feet and avoid racking up foul after foul.
Of course, the Bonnies need to shoot the ball better too.
According to KenPom, St. Bonaventure has made just 47.4% of their attempts from inside the arc this season, a number that ranks 296th nationally.
The Brown and White have missed tons of bunnies and layups inside, which is not a recipe for success.
Nonetheless, to get past the Wildcats, Bona will need to make some shots and get some scoring from their backcourt, namely Daryl Banks III and Moses Flowers, the two captains.
Banks III leads the team in scoring at 15.6 PPG, while Flowers has averaged 11.6 PPG in conference play. Both guards can score from all over the floor.
“He has to play better and knock down some open shots,” Schmidt said of Banks III, who made the All-Conference Third Team. “When [Banks III] plays better, we play better. But I don’t think that has anything to do with home and away; teams have guarded him better on the road. He’s missed some shots on the road. But if we are going to win, he needs to play well for us.”
The former St. Peter’s Peacock has struggled away from the Reilly Center this season, as he has not scored more than 15 points in any road conference game.
This trend has carried over to neutral sites too.
When Bona played Iona at the Barclays Center on Dec. 11, a 72-to-57 Gael victory, Banks III scored 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Nevertheless, he did knock down a couple of 3-pointers, so perhaps familiarity with the depth perception of the Barclays Center will help.
“I guess it’s more of a positive than a negative,” Schmidt said when asked if playing in the Barclays Center earlier this year would aid his team. “But I don’t think that’s going to be a reason why we shoot the ball better or not or play better. We haven’t played there in three or four months.”
With that said, Banks III makes winning plays. He is an underrated defender, leads the country in minutes played, and can heat up like a microwave—especially when shooting from the outside on fast break opportunities. He did score 27 for St. Peter’s in the First Round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament against Kentucky. Banks III has felt March magic before, so I would caution against betting against the Somerset, New Jersey native this time around too.
Who knows what will happen; after all, the last time the Bonnies entered the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the ninth-seed, they reached the Semifinals thanks to Jordan Gathers:
— Jack Milko (@jack_milko) April 19, 2020
Unsurprisingly, Schmidt did not dwell much on this coincidence.
“Our guys were ten years old, just getting out of diapers. What happened in 2014 is ancient history,” Schmidt said. “We don’t talk about any of that stuff. We talk about one game and getting ready for Davidson. It does not matter what’s ahead if you don’t take care of what you got at the present. Everything is on Davidson, and trying to prepare as well as we can.”
The Bonnies have squared off against Davidson twice before in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
In the 2016 Quarterfinals, Bona led by ten points with 6:30 left in regulation. Jack Gibbs and the Wildcats stormed back and clipped the Bonnies in overtime, 90-to-86.
We all know what happened 48 hours after that final buzzer.
Davidson bested the Bonnies 82-to-70 in the Atlantic 10 Semifinals two years later. Following that game, Bona fans had to wait a long 24 hours before finally hearing St. Bonaventure’s name called on the 2018 Selection Show. Of course, the Brown and White went on to beat UCLA in the First Four, marking the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in almost 50 years.
No NCAA Tournament talk will surround Wednesday’s game.
But Davidson has St. Bonaventure’s number in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
They have also proven to be a tough matchup for the Brown and White, especially this season.
Unfortunately, I feel these trends continue Wednesday, ending St. Bonaventure’s roller-coaster season. The Bonnies put up a better fight than they did in the Tar Heel State, but Mennenga proves too difficult to guard as Davidson advances to play VCU, the number one overall seed.
Davidson 71, St. Bonaventure 67
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.