photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu
By Jeff Uveino
BLOOMINGTON, IN — Maybe it was the identical margins of defeat.
Maybe it was the nearly identical final scores. Or the conference that the two opponents share.
Whatever it was, when the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team lost to LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, my mind could not shake SBU’s 2018 tournament loss to Florida.
Three years ago, the Jaylen Adams-led Bonnies were knocked out in the Round of 64 by Florida, 77-62, in Dallas. They shot 35% from the field and 16% from 3-point range, and fell behind in the first half before failing to assemble a comeback.
On Saturday, on the campus of Indiana University, the Bonnies were bested by LSU, 76-61. They shot 33% from the floor and 15% from distance, and trailed the entirety of the second half after going into halftime down by nine.
Maybe the feeling was justified.
Bona is now 0-3 against Southeastern Conference teams since Kentucky eliminated the Bonnies from the tournament in 2000. That game came down to the last possession, while the two more recent games had been decided long before.
Bona fans maintain optimism until zeros fill the clock. In 2018, that was the case. While the Bonnies had been out-played in the first half, a late-game comeback felt imminent, especially for a team that had won 14 of its last 15 games.
The same feeling filled Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday, as the 500-or-so SBU fans that acquired tickets to the game held out hope that the Bonnies would find some second-half magic.
However, it never happened.
It didn’t in 2018. It didn’t in 2021. Instead of the thrill of a comeback, Bona fans felt the helplessness of the game clock slipping away.
While their playing styles varied, both teams were talented. Adams and Matt Mobley’s group shot the ball as well as any team in the Atlantic 10 (39% from distance), and rarely had as poor of a shooting night as it did against the Gators.
This year’s squad, led by a core of juniors that has grown up in front of the community’s eyes over the last three seasons, didn’t shoot the ball as well as 2018’s team. It did, however, defend as well as almost any team in the country, and its 60.4 points allowed per game was the fifth-best clip in the nation entering the tournament.
A poor shooting night from Kyle Lofton’s Bonnies was less surprising than one from Adams’ Bonnies. However, LSU out-rebounded and out-defended the former, beating SBU at its own game.
Despite the similarities that populate the pair of losses, one glaring difference exists that can’t be found in the box score: one team didn’t get another chance. The other will.
Adams, Mobley and Idris Taquee played the last game of their college careers against Florida. That season, successful enough for Bona to secure its second at-large bid to the tournament in program history, was the culmination of Adams’ four-year career at SBU.
The Bonnies added weapons for Adams along the way, such as Mobley and then-junior Courtney Stockard. It was the group’s best chance at a tournament run. Its only chance, really, after being excluded from the tournament in 2016 and failing to qualify the year after.
However, 2021’s group will get another shot to advance Bona past the Round of 64 for the first time since 1970. There won’t be any tricks or gimmicks involved.
They’re just all underclassmen.
Jaren Holmes, a guard that transferred to the program before the 2019-20 season, acknowledged that opportunity after LSU ended his junior season. While the sting of Saturday’s loss will be felt long after the flight back to Western New York, the Bonnies have the rare opportunity to bring their entire roster back from an NCAA Tournament team.
“To make it with these guys and to make it with these coaches and the year we had, I know for a fact that everybody back in Olean is happy and proud of us,” Holmes said.
Based on the hundreds of people that lined the streets of Olean, Allegany and the university as the Bonnies departed for Dayton ahead of last week’s A-10 championship, Holmes is right.
This season was one of the most important in program history. The Bonnies won the A-10 regular-season and tournament in the same year for the first time ever. They received a single-digit seed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
Perhaps head coach Mark Schmidt will be playing with house money next year. Regardless, Holmes and the Bonnies will be back. He said so himself.
“We’ll be back,” Holmes said. “We’ll be back for sure. That’s all I have to say. We’ll be back. We’re not going to stop working. We’ll be back.”