By: Jeff Uveino
It doesn’t take long to figure out how important basketball is to St. Bonaventure University.
I discovered this on my first visit to the university, when I was just a junior in high school. That visit just happened to be the day after ‘Selection Sunday’ of the 2016 NCAA basketball tournament.
After an unforgettable 2015-16 Bonnies season, where they finished 22-9 and were co-Atlantic 10 regular season champions, they were left out of the tournament following a loss in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Many felt the Bonnies had been snubbed, and they had good reason to believe it. Everyone I met during my visit brought it up. It felt as if the life had been sucked out of the school, and I hadn’t even experienced it on a normal day yet. But what I did feel was the compassion that students and faculty had toward the basketball teams. It meant everything to them.
Fast forward two years.
Now a freshman at St. Bonaventure, preseason hype over the men’s basketball team was through the roof. Seniors Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley were set to take the team to the ‘big dance’ and redeem the snub.
The team opened the season by steamrolling nearby Alfred University, a Division III team, in an exhibition at the RC. The Bonnies gave a convincing first impression of what they could accomplish in the 2017-18 season, but encountered a large problem along the way. The entire Reilly Center held its breath when Adams came up limping after driving to the basket.
Adams wouldn’t return to the game, and ended up not returning to the lineup for a lot longer than Bonnies fans would have liked.
The first month of the season without Adams was interesting to say the least. Now that the season is over and the drama of the postseason has settled, November seems like an eternity ago. But the roller coaster ride that was the non-conference schedule is part of what made this Bonnies season so special.
Start out on November 10, 2017—the Niagara game. My first Bonnies game (yes, ever). St. Bonaventure was heavy favorites over the Niagara Purple Eagles, but were simply outplayed by a team that would finish 161st in RPI. Was this team really that much worse without Jaylen Adams?
Five days later, the Bonnies were set to play the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks in the Reilly Center. Easy work, right? The Hawks would end up finishing 7-25 with an RPI of 346 (out of 351). This also happened to be my first time covering a game on press row.
This time, the problem wasn’t the team, it was the venue. A power outage in the RC caused the game to be postponed five days, and left the Bonnies sitting at 0-1 for even longer than what had already felt like a lifetime.
What a way to start the season. What a way for one’s first two trips to the Reilly Center to turn out. Evidence of how special this season was, however, is that these games are now a mere afterthought.
The rest of non-conference play—where do I start?
Courtney Stockard’s game-winning layup against Maryland. Freshman Izaiah Brockington coming out of nowhere to score 20 points against TCU. A win at the University of Buffalo (who would eventually knock the Arizona Wildcats and NBA lottery prospect DeAndre Ayton out of the NCAA tournament). Matt Mobley’s buzzer-beater three-pointer to beat Vermont. All huge moments, all in less than a month’s time.
The Bonnies were just getting started. With Adams back in the lineup and the Bonnies riding a six-game win streak, they headed to the Carrier Dome to play the Syracuse Orange. St. Bonaventure had never won at Syracuse, and their last win against them had been in 1981.
After a fierce defensive battle, the Bonnies prevailed in overtime, 60-57. Was this the key non-conference victory St. Bonaventure would need to overcome the snub of two seasons ago?
While non-conference play had brought drama, the conference schedule would bring adversity to a team that had previously been hot as could be.
After opening Atlantic 10 play with a home victory over the Massachusetts Minutemen, the Bonnies lost four of their next five games, with all the losses coming on the road. Doubt ensued. Maybe this team wasn’t NCAA tournament-caliber after all? Maybe the win over Syracuse didn’t even mean anything now?
Skip ahead another seven weeks.
That’s how long it took another team to beat St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies won their final 12 Atlantic 10 games, finishing 14-4 in conference play. Talk about turning your season around.
They wouldn’t have gotten there, of course, without several key performances that contribute to the remarkableness of this season.
Who could forget the night Jaylen Adams hit 10 threes and scored 44 points against Saint Louis? Or how about the triple overtime game vs Davidson, with a final score of 117-113? Even these epic games probably take a back seat to the night the Rhode Island Rams came to town.
Rhode Island was ranked No. 16 in the nation, ESPN was in town, and it was Friday night at St. Bonaventure University. People were excited.
In what was the loudest sporting event I have attended in my life, the Bonnies prevailed over the Rams, 77-74. Bedlam commenced when the buzzer sounded, and the whited-out Reilly Center crowd spilled out onto the court. It was the type of sports moment you dream about.
After finishing out their A 10 schedule, the Bonnies would head to Washington, DC for the conference tournament seeded No. 2.
The streets of the nation’s capital were filled with Bonnies fans, even more so than I had expected. Walking around with any St. Bonaventure gear on meant you were subject to a “Go Bonas!” On just about every block.
After defeating the No. 7 seeded Richmond Spiders in the quarterfinals, St. Bonaventure was set for a rematch of their triple-overtime contest (just eleven days before) with the Davidson Wildcats. This time, Davidson’s hot shooting proved to be too much for the Bonnies, and they were eliminated in the semifinals. Now, in order to redeem the snub, they needed some help from the selection committee.
Any die-hard Bonnies basketball fan can tell you where they were when St. Bonaventure’s name was selected for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. At a gas station near Altoona, Pennsylvania, I struggled to find cell phone service to stream the selection show. Meanwhile, nearly the entire student body erupted in the RC when the Bonnies logo showed up on the scoreboard.
The Bonnies were in. No snub.
The pain of 2016 could finally be forgotten, and for the first time since 2012, the Bonnies were dancing.
However, in what some felt was a disservice to the team, St. Bonaventure was sent to Dayton for the ‘First Four’ round. They would play the UCLA Bruins, one of the most storied programs in college basketball history.
On that Tuesday night, just two days after Selection Sunday, the University of Dayton Arena sounded like the Reilly Center. The Bonnies prevailed, 65-58, for their first NCAA tournament win since 1970.
Now they had to travel to Dallas, and in just two days play the No. 6 seeded Florida Gators.
Blame it on the excessive travel, blame it on fatigue, blame it on cold shooting; the Bonnies got run over by the Gators.
After a 77-62 loss in a game that felt even more lopsided than that, one of the most historic runs in program history was over. St. Bonaventure finished 26-8.
26 wins was the most ever in a single season in program history. This included 8 and 13 game win streaks, and a 14-1 record at home. The only loss at the RC was to Niagara (go figure).
When looking back on this season, many people will remember the NCAA tournament games, or even just the fact that the Bonnies made it into the tournament.
But to me, it’s how they got there that makes the run so special. So many moments, big moments, that will be forgotten. After all, I didn’t even mention games such as the homecoming sellout win over Richmond, or Jaylen Adams’ game-winner in a 40-point performance at Duquesne.
However, this team will not be forgotten.
Neither will this senior class. Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley, and Idris Taqqee are the winning-est graduating class in St. Bonaventure history.
The Bonnies will have a brand-new look next year, and we have nearly eight months to debate about where the team will go from here. But for now, let’s appreciate all this year’s team gave to the school and the fans.
They gave me a freshman year I’ll never forget.