By Josh Svetz
The Bonnies have provided enough highs and lows for a season’s worth of basketball and it’s only been four games.
Tonight was a high, but coming into the contest, most wouldn’t think so.
In fact, the Bonnies would have to overcome hard knocks to achieve any sort of high.
Hours before the game, star guard Jaylen Adams, who has yet to play or practice due to an ankle injury, was ruled out. Junior forward Courtney Stockard was probable, but limited in practice over the week.
Then, as tip-off neared, Bonas fans were left confounded when the official men’s basketball account tweeted that senior Matt Mobley, the Bonnies’ leading scorer, would not start due to being late for a team meeting.
On top of this, Bonas had to contend with the undefeated Maryland Terrapins, a top-20 defensive team featuring several bigs 6-foot-10 and taller alongside two NBA hopefuls, sophomores Justin Jackson and Anthony Cowan.
The only way Bonas could hope to sneak out of this game victorious was to take advantage of the Terps’ bottom-200-ranked turnover rate, translating to a turnover every four possessions, and make this game ugly.
That’s exactly what the Bonnies did. They brought the grind to the grinders.
To start, they didn’t let the size difference affect the scoring in the first half.
Bonas deployed a 1-3-1 zone to neutralize talented freshman forward Bruno Fernando and it worked.
Fernando became agitated and frustrated early, taking his head out of the game and mounting up just two points and three rebounds in the first half. While 7-foot-1 senior Michal Cekovsky filled in nicely with nine points, two blocks and two rebounds in the first half, he just didn’t provide the same upside and athleticism of Fernando.
Bonas also capitalized on turnovers, turning eleven first half miscues into twelve points.
The scrappy effort contributed heavily, as Bonas didn’t let the Terps lead by more than four at any time in the first half.
But maybe the number one reason the Bonnies handled their business was their defense.
Forcing turnovers aside, Bonas switched beautifully on screens and closed out on the Terps’ guards. This frustrated the shooters, holding them to 1 of 10 from behind the arc and just 43 percent from the field.
Despite Mobley being held to four points in the first half, everyone else stepped up offensively, with Josh Ayeni, Izaiah Brockington, LaDarien Griffin and Courtney Stockard scoring 24 of the Bonnies’ 30 first-half points.
The Bonnies headed into the locker room down one, but with momentum on their side.
Still, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon may have summed up the situation best in his sideline interview.
“We haven’t made a jump shot, we have eleven turnovers and we’re up one,” Turgeon said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
With obvious adjustments coming for the second half, the Bonnies would need to continue the defensive tenacity and get something out of Mobley to have a chance.
The Terps came out re-energized, opening the second half with a 8-2 run in the first five minutes.
Bonas needed to answer, and with Mobley’s shot not falling, he turned to the free throw line to make a contribution.
Mobley went 10 of 10 from the free throw line, six of those coming in the second half.
But with 11 minutes left, the wheels started to come off.
Down by one, Bonas gave up two three-pointers and an and-one layup in the span of three minutes, trailing 44-52 with eight minutes remaining.
But the Bonnies wouldn’t quit.
Layups by Ayeni, Mobley and Brockington cut the deficit to two, and two free throws from Stockard tied the game at 53.
However, Bonas’ three-point defensive woes reared its ugly head, as Terps’ junior Dion Wiley drained a three.
Both teams traded free throws and Mobley made a layup to make the score 59-57 with two minutes to play.
Mobley then tied the game with two free throws.
The free throw line saved the Bonnies, as 21 of their 63 total points came from the stripe.
Then, the Bonnies caught a break when the Terps’ Jackson missed an open three.
Even with the break, Mobley missed a layup but Ayeni grabbed the offensive board and drew the foul.
Ayeni handled the pressure, draining both free throws, giving the Bonnies a 61-59 lead.
An ill-advised foul by Mobley not only gave the Terps’ Cowan free throws, but also gave him his fifth foul, taking him out of the game.
With no timeouts, Stockard-the highest scorer left in the game-was forced into the spotlight, facing adversity from the tenacious Terps’ defense.
But Stockard is no stranger to adversity.
For two years he’s battled back from foot injuries that ended his season twice. Even before the game, that same type of injury limited him all week in practice. But now, with the game in his hands, this was his moment.
He handled the ball inches in front of the half-court line, cutting to the basket and going up strong to put in the game-winning layup with 3.4 seconds left.
Stockard finished the game with fourteen points.
The Terps turned the ball over and that was it. The Bonnies won, despite everyone counting them out, despite all the adversity.
Stockard scored the game-winner, despite the adversity.
The excitement of this win will be short-lived, though, as they turn around and face TCU for the Emerald Coast Classic championship tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.
But as the glow remains fresh, the Bonnies carry a scrappy nature and underdog mentality, just like their leader tonight.