By Josh Svetz and Sean Lynch
The last time the St. Bonaventure Bonnies won a game in the NCAA Tournament, there were no cell phones, laptops and the fad known as disco was not even invented yet.
The alumni that lived around the time of Bonaventure’s 1970 Final Four run swear the Bonnies would have won the championship if Bob Lanier was healthy. The Bonnies would have got a shot against the UCLA Bruins, a powerhouse of the decade.
Over forty years later, those alumni can finally take solace in the game that wasn’t.
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies, a school of fewer than 1,800 students, beat the UCLA Bruins, a school that has that many kids in its intro classes, 65-58, in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament at University of Dayton Arena.
The Bruins came out on fire, going 5-5 from the field in the first four minutes and looked unbeatable defensively.
The Bonnies started flat, posting 2-7 from the field.
Jaylen Adams talked about handling the Bruins early hot streak.
“They’re a good offensive team,” Adams said. “We didn’t hang our head when they started making shots. We knew we would have our turn and we punched back.”
And punch back they did.
Bonnies’ head coach Mark Schmidt switched to a zone and the Bonnies forced consecutive turnovers to push their way back. The switch frustrated the Bruins, making them close out the half shooting 8-23 and a six-minute scoring drought. Even with star guard Jaylen Adams shooting 0-7, the Bonnies brought the score within one late in the first.
After some time to sit and get recomposed, Adams returned, finding Courtney Stockard for a drive and foul. Stockard sank two free throws. After looking dead early, the Bonnies had their first lead of the day, 23-22.
The chants came rolling from the rafters of the UD Arena in Dayton, but they weren’t the usual chants of “Go Flyers.” Instead, a constant barrage of “Let’s go Bonas” rang out, turning Dayton, Ohio into Olean, New York for the night.
The Bruins continued to struggle with the crowd and the Bonnies’ pressure, as they held the highest scoring Pac-12 team to just six points in the last 14 minutes of the half. A last-second mid-range by Idris Taqqee gave the Bonnies a 28-23 lead at the half.
After halftime adjustments, both teams traded baskets quickly, neither team quite pulling away. The Bruins damn near tried, starting 6-7 from the field in the first 10 minutes of the second half and taking back the lead with a 5-5 field goal run. Adams continued to struggle from the field, bricking three after three.
Someone else had to step up. Someone had to be the hero.
It happened to be the player that some didn’t even think would play.
Courtney Stockard stepped up in his NCAA Tournament debut, scoring 26 points and grabbing four rebounds.
Stockard drove through the lane all night, taking on virtually the whole Bruins’ squad and made layups down the stretch.
Stockard talked about the process of going through the season and playing a high caliber UCLA Bruins team.
“Back in the offseason, we set some goals for ourselves,” Stockard said. “This is a special group of guys and when we set those goals, we knew what we had to do. We had our work cut out for us and we went out there and accomplished something big.”
Then, Matt Mobley woke up. A key three to extend the Bona lead electrified the crowd and as the song “Can’t Hold Us,” by Macklemore played throughout the arena, the decibel level suggested that literally, the ceiling couldn’t hold the bona fans. Just maybe, UD Arena might need a new roof.
But the Bruins didn’t quit. They found themselves in a hot streak of their own, capitalizing on open looks and mismatches within the zone defense of the Bonnies.
But after 39 minutes of misses, bad threes, even air balls, Adams made up for everything. With the game tied at 58, Adams came down the court and knocked down a jumper giving Bona’s the lead. Then, he stole the ball from Holiday, got fouled and made both free throws, sealing the game.
Adams said winning despite his struggles says a lot about the group of guys around him.
“It just shows what type of team we can beat,” Adams said. “ I couldn’t get into a rhythm, but my teammates picked me up.”
Head coach Mark Schmidt was sentimental about the whole tournament experience and his Bonaventure career up to that point in the press conference.
“It’s a special moment,” Schmidt said. “Some people said I shouldn’t take the (head coaching) job. For us to go from having three players to beating UCLA in eleven years, it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Schmidt continued to talk about the spirit of the team.
“We always talk about how we’re a bunch of misfits,” he said. “No one wanted us. We come to Bonaventure and work our tails off.”
With the win, the Bonnies advanced to the second round, where they will face 6th seed Florida on Thursday in Dallas, Texas at 9:57 p.m.
While Coach Schmidt and the Bonnies are buzzing from this victory, they’re already looking ahead to Thursday night, even the upcoming red eye.
“I’m proud of our team’s accomplishments, but we’re not done,” he said. “We can look at those records once this is finished. We want to continue and that 2 a.m. flight is going to be the best flight I’ve ever taken.”