By Chuck Wiser, I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels
One of the luxuries of writing a weekly column and not having a daily “10 AM Go to press deadline” is the ability to change directions completely and write something not intended or dreamt of. I start accumulating topic thoughts early in the week and then start compiling and writing on Wednesday, often not finishing until submitting to my editor Thursday morning.
Today I write about a love affair that I have had for over 6 decades. Nope! Although the timing coincides with the one with my wife, this one is about St. Bonaventure, and more specifically their men’s basketball program (aka the Bonnies). I had my first look at St. Bonaventure when I visited there with my Friendship Central School Newspaper group “The Spy” on a “Press Day” visit in 1961 or 1962. I aspired to becoming a writer and had my post high school schooling situation been different…who knows? I might have had the education and experience to know how to do what I’m doing herein.
Before I go any further, I want to attribute the source of the some of data and statistics that I include herein. Thanks go to Paul Napier, Co-Administrator of the St. Bonaventure University Community social media site, along with Co-Administrator and A10 Talk (Contributor/Author, Ray Floriani, and to the game summaries posted on www.gobonnies.com by Scott Eddy, Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Communications at St. Bonaventure. Any errors or omissions are totally my fault. I have not plagiarized any of them nor used any interview or “firsthand” information, but rather, most of their writings which I read on a daily basis.
In the early 60’s and even after my enlistment in the US Navy when my mother subscribed me to receive the Olean Times Herald, I followed the exploits of the Bonnies via the newspaper. It was then, and therein, that I became a fan of the St. Bonaventure “Brown Indians”. In 1992, Being one of the first institutions to acknowledge the sensitivity of “ethnic naming” of sports teams, the basketball team changed the name to the Bonnies. Some of my early basketball “legends” were brothers Tom and Sam Stith, Bill Butler and Fred Crawford, all now Hall of Fame Members. There are far too many players and coaches that fill my memories to list them all, but I would be remiss in not mentioning the big guy Bob Lanier as his injury in the NCAA’s Final Four title run arguably cost the Bonnies the coveted NCAA Championship in 1970. It is my honor to call Paul Hoffman, one of the stalwarts of that 70’s team, a friend, and golfing colleague. Paul stuck around Allegany County as a teacher at what became known as the Genesee Valley Central School. You can still see Paul making his way around the local golf courses until he snowbirds it south for the winter.
Fast forward through several years of my Bonnies fandom, enduring heart break, and enjoying euphoria, as the team’s successes had an ebb and a flow from the lowest valley to the highest peaks. The Bonnies had an abundance of both highs and lows this year following what was predicted to be a banner year with the promise of another conference title and its automatic NCAA tournament berth. Injuries, postponements, and game cancellations due to Covid, took their toll a few games in, despite their tremendously successful early start starting out their non-conference play.
Bonnies had an early #25 ranking in the National AP Poll ranking, and it soared to #16 after going to 5-0 after downing Marquette (Big East) in the Charleston Classic final, already having dispatched Boise State (Mountain West) and Clemson (ACC). Following that start, it was felt by many that their subsequent loss to Northern Iowa (NI) was a terrible backslide. Turns out that NI’s success over the Bonnies wasn’t at all that demeaning as they ended up winning their Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. Unfortunately for both, like the Bonnies, they failed to win their conference and its automatic placing in NCAA but as were the Bonnies they too were tapped to play in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The roller coaster ride began there with non-league wins over Coppin State, University of Buffalo, and Loyola (MD) and then heart-breaking losses to UConn and Virginia Tech.
Suddenly however, the roller coaster came to an abrupt stop, interrupting the Bonnies playing for 25 days due to postponements resulting from their and their opponents, being put into “Covid Jail”. Upon resuming play on January 11th with a win over LaSalle, the Bonnies pretty much alternated wins and losses until starting a win streak with a “make up” game win over Fordham. That began a 7-game streak riding the peak atop the roller coaster, highlighted by back to back home and away games over St. Louis. The streak ended abruptly however with a loss to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) on March 1st.
The Bonnies fought their way up to 4th place in the conference and its cherished Conference “2 game bye”. In sports lore they always say that the toughest win to accomplish is the third game against the same foe. Sadly, that came to fruition when paired against St. Louis at the beginning of the Conference Championship series. That particular game was truly a heart breaker as one of the Bonnies most prolific “free throw” shooters missed two in a row ending the game in a loss. This knocked them out of the conference title chase and left them only with the “hope that we get picked somewhere” for post season play. The Bonnies didn’t have the resume’ to be selected as an “At Large” NCAA participant and that wasn’t surprising given their history with NCAA. After all, they were snubbed by the NCAA in 2016 despite a 22-8 overall record and going 14-4 in conference play. Most basketball experts and novice fans alike were stunned by this turn of events that even proved 88% of the “bracketologists” wrong. The team was left to wonder why? Perhaps even more disheartening was the fact that their fellow New York nemesis Syracuse University, was selected as an “at large” team despite an overall record of 19 -13, with only 9 – 9 in conference success, and going 1-5 at the end of their last games of the season.
St. Bonaventure is the epitome of what you would think is an ideal “team”. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this year’s team is the best all time “balanced” team. It is certainly one of the most unselfish as far as forsaking personal accomplishment over teamwork and success. One of the Bonnies social media followers made the comment before Tuesdays game that the other team had a great defense, and they would just put their best defensive player on the Bonnies best offensive player. OK! So, who would you pick to defend when the Bonnies all average double-digit scoring and on any given night, can light up the net? It has been proven many times, that any one of them can go off for mid 20’s scoring. Statistically, there might be other teams out there that were better, as a balanced team, but here are the “statistics” that would/could justify my belief.
Points per game averages: Adaway 15.7, Holmes 13.4, Lofton 12.7, Welch 11.9, Osunniyi 11.3
Rebounds: Adaway 5.9, Holmes 5.0, Lofton 3.6, Welch 6.0, Osunniyi 7.7
1000 Career Points:
All 5 starters reached and exceeded the 1000 point plateau.
Other Significant Stats: Some or most, in the top echelon of A10 or even National ratings.
Lofton: Assists 5.7/game, Steals 2.1/game, Free Throw % 81.6, Minutes per game (MPG) 38.4
Adaway: Field Goals 47.8%, Free Throws 82.6%, MPG 37.9, 3 PT 39%
Holmes: 13.4 Pts./Game 2nd on team, 37.9 MPG
Welch: 6.0 Rebounds per game (2nd on team), 37.4 MPG
Osunniyi: 2.9 Blocks per game, 7.7 Rebounds per game, 30.4 MPG
Having missed out on the NCAA invite, the Bonnies were pleased to accept an invitation to participate in the NIT even hoping to receive a home game opportunity depending on their foe and regional placement. This, I believe, is where disrespect by the organizing agency and a real slap to the face of a stellar program took place. Not only did they not receive a regional home game they didn’t even receive a “regional game”. Instead, they were scheduled to play in Colorado thousands of miles and two time zones away. Undaunted, they put on their big boy shorts and went on the road, much to the chagrin of the Colorado Buffaloes. Bonnies prevailed with a 76 – 68 win despite the milage, short time frame turn around, and the rarified (thin) air while playing their normal, nearly full minutes, game. Once again, all five starting players scored in double figures led by Jalen Adaway’s 17 points followed by Kyle Lofton’s 15. They were most likely nearly exhausted but reinvigorated knowing they would play on.
Enter the scheduling gods once again. They didn’t have to travel across the country…only half -way, as they were to meet Oklahoma next, only a few short days later. Once again, their balanced team scoring and stifling defense prevailed and they beat Oklahoma at their ranch, 70 – 68. Jaren Holmes got back into scoring form leading the 5 starters all of whom were in double figures with 23 points.
This brings us up to this past Tuesday’s game, again on the road, but, at least a little closer to home in Virginia. This game validated all predictions that it would be a defensive battle as it was a back – and – forth dog fight in the trenches. 4 out of 5 Bonnies played all 40 minutes and 6th man in Coulibaly, got to spell Osunniyi for a total of 13 minutes. This may have been a blessing in disguise as “Shoon” had enough energy left on the final play of the game to soar above the rim, and to swat away Virginia’s final shot sending it deep into the cheap seats.
That, in and of itself, might have been the highlight of the game but it was prefaced by two clutch free throws. For those watching or having seen the St. Louis A10 Tourney game that ended in heartbreak over missed foul shots, well, I guess vindication can be sweet and just medicine. The player having previously been somewhat disheartened by his misses, was perhaps prophetic by saying that “he wanted to be in that situation” despite the misses. He was in that situation again and came through with the tying, and then the winning foul shots, by the score 52-51.
Bonnies live to play on and will now face Xavier in the semi-final game on the 29th at the Madison Square Garden in NYC.
There was some degree of disappointment with the NIT Organizers regarding seedings for the game against Virginia. Many felt and/or were led to believe that the Bonnies deserved the home team nod based on their perception of the “seedings” based on information previously advertised by ESPN and others. There seemed to be some confusion of “seedings” versus “rankings”.
Reminds me of household discussions when we discuss turning the “fridge temperature” UP or DOWN”. Turning the dial “up” (to a higher number) turns the temperature “down” (colder). Turning the dial “down” (to a lower number) Turns the temperature “up” (warmer).
The Problem surfaces when the fridge temperature needs adjusting and when one of us says, “Turn it down, or Turn it up.” Inevitably I just say; “tell me if you want it warmer or colder. I’ll take it from there”