ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – Two teams trending in opposite directions will meet at the Reilly Center on Saturday. The Richmond Spiders, winners of three straight, visit Western New York to take on the Bonnies. The Brown and White have lost back-to-back games, although they have won two in a row on their home floor.
This game tips off at 2:30 p.m. and will air on USA Network—the first time St. Bonaventure will air on national television this year.
Last season, pollsters selected the Bonnies and the Spiders to finish one and two in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll.
These two teams squared off twice, splitting the season series as the home team won each game.
The Spiders placed seventh in the preseason poll this year, while pundits put the Bonnies tenth.
But Richmond has played much better than a seventh-placed team over the past month. The Spiders have not lost a game in 2023 and have a record of 7-2 overall in their last nine games. One of those losses came to Clemson, who sits atop the ACC with a 6-0 record in conference play. The other came at George Mason to open up the Atlantic 10 season. Mason just squeaked by the Spiders, 62-to-58 on New Year’s Eve.
Since the new year, Richmond has scored victories over George Washington, Duquesne, and, most recently, at Davidson.
Tyler Burton, the 6-foot-7 forward from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, has averaged 21.8 points per game in four Atlantic 10 games, thus significantly contributing to Richmond’s 3-1 conference record.
Burton torched the Bonnies last season too. On Feb. 4, 2022, when the Spiders defeated the Bonnies 71-to-61 at the Robbins Center, Burton poured in a then career-high 36 points.
He eclipsed that mark earlier this season when he scored 38 at the College of Charleston. The Spiders came back from 21 down in the second half but could not overcome the now 22nd-ranked Cougars in overtime, losing 92-to-90.
On Mar. 4, 2022, Burton scored 21 at the Reilly Center, tying Jalen Adaway to lead all scorers. Bona defeated Richmond 72-to-65 in that regular-season finale. Overall, in four games played against the Bonnies, Burton has averaged 19 PPG, just shy of the 19.6 PPG he averages this season.
“You are not going to neutralize [Burton]. He’s one of the best—if not the best— players in our conference,” said St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt when I asked him to discuss Richmond’s star player. “[Burton is] long, strong, and athletic. He can shoot it and take you off the bounce. He gets to the foul line. He [grabs] offensive rebounds. That’s why he’s one of the top players in our league. We have to try and make it hard for him. He will get his points, and we must make it difficult for him to do that.”
Burton can score from all three levels as he shoots 35% from beyond the arc. He’s a pure scorer, but he also leads the team in rebounding, averaging eight per game.
Hence why Atlantic 10 media members are discussing Burton as a player-of-the-year candidate. Right now, he and Dayton’s DaRon Holmes lead that discussion.
Yet, the Spiders have some nice complimentary pieces to accompany Burton’s scoring prowess.
Andre Gustavson returns from last year’s team that won the 2022 Atlantic 10 Tournament. Although he averages under five points per game, the Finlander can hit the big shot when called upon. He shoots 44.8% from beyond the arc.
Aside from Burton, only one other Spider averages in double figures. Jason Nelson, the freshman who stands at 5-foot-10, averages 10.4 PPG. He most recently scored 16 in the victory at Davidson. Nelson can score in bunches too. He dropped 21, which remains his career high, at Northern Iowa in the second game of the season. The Spiders defeated the Panthers with ease, 68-to-55.
Richmond has some key additions down low too.
Isaiah Bigelow, who transferred to Richmond from Wofford, has started just four games but still manages to see 22.1 minutes per contest. Standing at 6-foot-7, Bigelow averages 8.5 PPG, good for third on the team while coming off the bench.
Neal Quinn played his last two seasons at Lafayette before jumping to the Atlantic 10. The 7-footer from Allendale, New Jersey, has started every game this season and averages 7.9 PPG. He led Lafayette in scoring a season ago at 14.7 PPG.
Overall, this Richmond team does not have an offense that runs their opponents out of the gym, despite having Burton leading the way. With that said, the Spiders love to shoot it from deep. According to KenPom, 38.5% of their points have come off 3-pointers, ranking 23rd in the country. Richmond lives and dies by the three: they have converted 35.8% of their 3-point attempts this year.
On the flip side, the Spiders play defense better than they run their complicated Princeton offense. According to KenPom, Richmond’s defensive efficiency ranks 64th nationally. They rebound well, as second-chance points are hard to come by against the Spiders. Moreover, similar to the Bonnies, Richmond does a good job defending the perimeter. Spider opponents have converted on 30.4% of their attempts from deep this season, good for 50th in the country per KenPom.
After a tough road trip, the Bonnies return home to the comfortable confines of the Reilly Center, where they have won seven of eight games played there this season.
In those games at home, Bona is averaging 72.3 PPG, as opposed to a poor 63.6 PPG on the road. Having the Bona faithful behind them helps, and they will certainly lend their support on Saturday. Some students should be back on campus as the spring semester begins next week.
No Bonnie has enjoyed Bob Lanier Court more this season than Daryl Banks III, the 6-foot-3 guard from Somerset, New Jersey. Banks has averaged 19.3 PPG in Bona’s eight home games, which includes three contests in which he has scored 27 or more. He shoots lights out in the Reilly Center. From the floor, he’s converted on 42.9% of all field goal attempts. That number jumps up to 47.4% from beyond the arc. He has made close to 86% of his free throws at home too.
Banks III is not the only Bonnie that loves playing at home. It seems as if all Bonnies do. Remarkably, per St. Bonaventure’s Scott Eddy, the Bonnies have a 28-4 record at the Reilly Center in the past three seasons, good for the best home winning percentage out of any Atlantic 10 program during that stretch.
But the Bonnies will enter Saturday’s game as home underdogs, a label that St. Bonaventure loves historically.
To pull off the upset, Bona will have to limit their bad fouling habits, especially Chad Venning and Yann Farell.
Venning, who stands at 6-foot-10, will likely match up against Quinn. Not many big men in the Atlantic 10 can match up against Venning’s size. Quinn can. The Brooklyn, New York native will have to play defense with his feet and smartly anchor the paint.
Richmond will have a field day inside if the Bonaventure big man faces foul trouble. Not only would the Spiders score points in the paint, but they would penetrate and kick out to their trigger-happy shooters on the perimeter.
The same can be said for Farell, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Gabon. Schmidt needs Farell to attack the glass and play active defense. He obviously cannot do that from the bench whenever he sits due to foul trouble. The freshman leads his team in rebounding, averaging 7.2 PPG.
Speaking of the bench, Bona will need to rely on its reserves, namely Moses Flowers and Anquan Hill.
Flowers, who has averaged 14 PPG over the past three games, has proven he can score in numerous ways. He can score off the bounce, pull up in the lane, or hit a 3-pointer. His defensive efforts are underrated too.
In the gut-wrenching loss at Rhode Island, Hill played his best game in a Bona uniform. The 6-foot-9 forward played active defense, scored six points, and recorded a massive block in the closing minute.
“He’s getting better and continuing to learn the system,” Schmidt said of Hill, who transferred to Bona’s from Farleigh Dickinson University. “That [Rhode Island] game should give him more confidence when he comes in and gives us more production. He’s long and athletic. He’s still learning what to do. He was a 5-man at [Farleigh Dickinson], and now we have him playing as the four. So there’s a bit of transition happening with him. But hopefully, that game against Rhode Island boosts his confidence.”
If Schmidt can get 10-to-15 minutes of this per night from Hill, he can contribute immensely to this team down the stretch.
I would also like to see Kyrell Luc, the 5-foot-11 point guard from Dorchester, Massachusetts, continue to attack the paint. Probably the most athletic player on the roster, Luc uses his quickness to dash inside. The southpaw has a nice floater and an excellent pull-up jumper. He will need to get downhill against this formidable Richmond defense, or else the Bona offense could face a long afternoon. Luc also leads the team in assists, averaging 4.8 per game.
Entering Saturday, Atlantic 10 road teams have a record of 8-22 (.363) in conference play. Richmond picked up one of those victories at Davidson on Jan. 11.
As I discussed in the lead-up to the Rhode Island game, teams struggle on the road within their conference.
The Atlantic 10 is no different.
And yet, this Richmond team will likely finish in the top five of the conference standings by the season’s end. Burton has played otherworldly, and Coach Chris Mooney has re-tooled his roster with nice pieces.
Unfortunately for the Bonnies, Burton has another big day against the Brown and White as the Spiders buck the conference trend of not playing well away from home. I also see Bonaventure getting into foul trouble once again, thus awarding Richmond more free throws than Schmidt would like.
It’s a back-and-forth game for the first 35 minutes, but Burton and the Spiders from Richmond pull away at the end to win by multiple possessions.
Richmond 73, St. Bonaventure 66
For those music fans out there, yes, the title of this article is an ode to David Bowie, who we lost seven years ago this week:
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.