The stage was set. Two weeks ago, St. Bonaventure was set to take a trip to Belk Arena to play Davidson in a matchup for first place in the Atlantic 10 conference. Then, things came undone. Davidson went on a COVID pause and have not played a Division 1 basketball opponent in 22 days. Additionally, St. Bonaventure fell out of first place with losses to Saint Louis and VCU over that 22-day period.
Yet, thanks to VCU’s unfortunate loss to George Mason yesterday, Davidson (6-2, 11-5) and St. Bonaventure (8-3, 10-3) are once again in a battle for first place today at 3:30 at the Reilly Center. The Wildcats currently sit in a three-way tie for the highest win percentage in the conference with VCU and UMass. If the Wildcats win, they will obtain sole possession of first place in the conference. If the Bonnies win, they will swap with Davidson in the three-way tie. The game will be aired on NBC Sports Network. This game marks the first of a two-game series between the Bonnies and ‘Cats, with the second game on February 24.
Davidson enters the game as one of seven teams in the nation undefeated on the road. St. Bonaventure is also one of many teams to be undefeated at home. One of these perfect records will be broken tonight. Davidson also comes into the game on a five-game winning streak, four if you don’t count their Division 3 tune-up game against Southern Virginia University on Friday.
Overall, the Wildcats are 9-5 against the Bonnies. Yet another streak is on the line tonight as Davidson has won four straight against St. Bonaventure. Their last win came at the Reilly Center last season, where the ‘Cats won by an stunning score of 93-64 in a game St. Bonaventure was favored to win. St. Bonaventure has not beat Davidson since 2018, where they beat the ‘Cats in a triple overtime thriller 117-113.
The Road Here
Originally, many Davidson fans were frustrated that Davidson’s first game back from pause was a matchup this challenging and important. In this regard, Davidson’s game against Southern Virginia helped calm anxieties. Davidson handled Southern Virginia 101-51. This was by far the most the ‘Cats have scored this season, and they played at a much faster tempo, shooting more than they have in any game that ended in regulation.
Bob McKillop said after the game, “We got better today. We exposed ourselves to different looks, different experiences, [and] different lineups.” So, while many pundits criticize the need for a tune-up, Coach McKillop seems to think it’s exactly what the team needed. As he mentioned, Davidson experimented with different lineups. Davidson’s sophomore forward David Kristensen and their two freshmen guards Emory Lanier and Grant Huffman each saw over 20 minutes and put up double-digit point totals. Coach McKillop has been hinting at wanting to give these players more time, but it remains unseen whether this will happen in any of Davidson’s very important three remaining regular season games.
In a surprising turn of events, St. Bonaventure ended up being the team that hasn’t played for an extended amount of time. St. Bonaventure was supposed to play George Mason on Thursday, but this game was cancelled due to inclement weather. Now, the Bonnies have not played in 9 days, with their last game being a three-point loss at VCU on #FridA10. The Bonnies have now dropped two of their last three games and hope to correct the ship today. St. Bonaventure currently sits on the bubble for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Every game from here on out is crucial for them if they want to secure their chance to play in Indiana this March.
What to Watch
Davidson is one of the worst defensive teams in the conference; KenPom ranks their defense as the 130th best defense in the nation. In their last game, however, Davidson put on quite a defensive outing while containing UMass star Tre Mitchell. Davidson big men Luka Brajkovic and Nelson-Boachie Yiadom held Mitchell to only one made field goal in the second half and blocked him twice. It should be noted, however, that Mitchell was dealing with injury. It will be exciting to see how Davidson’s big men perform against St. Bonaventure’s starting forward Osun Osunniyi. Like Mitchell, Osunniyi is a beast in the paint. Osunniyi almost averages a double-double this season, with 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
St. Bonaventure guard Jalen Adaway is another player to watch in this afternoon’s game. The Miami (Ohio) University transfer is one of the hottest players in the conference, reaching the 20-point mark in both of his last two games. Adaway was one of the only positive things to come away from St. Bonaventure’s loss to VCU in their last game. He posted 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. This was one point shy of his career high, but he did it against the 11th most efficient defense in the country. We will see if Adaway stays hot in this game.
Davidson also has a player who’s been on fire lately. Star guard Kellan Grady may be attempting to make a late push for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Grady has averaged 19.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in his last five Division 1 outings. For Davidson to win today, Grady needs to stay hot and put his team on his back if things look tough. In their last game, this is exactly what Grady did. The team was battling from behind against UMass for most of the game. This changed about halfway through the second half, when Grady exploded en route to a 22-point performance and a nine-point victory.
Ken Pomeroy projects the two teams to split games, with St. Bonaventure winning by a score of 69-65 today and Davidson winning by a score of 68-67 at Belk Arena on Wednesday. If the two were to split, St. Bonaventure would want today to be the game they win if their goal is to mitigate the weight of their losses. Because Davidson currently sits inside the top 75 of the NET Rankings, a loss to Davidson today would be a Quad 2 loss because St. Bonaventure is at home, while a loss on Wednesday would be in Quad 1. Ideally for their at-large bid chances, however, St. Bonaventure wins both games and Davidson finishes the season inside the top 75. This would make both wins Quad 2 and Quad 1, respectively.
My prediction: St. Bonaventure wins today by a score of 72-66. I say that Davidson’s up-tempo play from Friday slightly carries over into today, which is why both score slightly more than projected. Since their early-season game against Texas, Davidson has had a tendency to be close behind in games but never breaking the barrier to go out in front. While the UMass game was certainly an exception, I predict a similar game script today, with St. Bonaventure eventually extending their lead to six with some late-game free throws.
Thanks for reading. For more Davidson and Atlantic 10 coverage, follow me on Twitter @WildcatCole24.