By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications
In the moments leading up to the Bonnies' NCAA Tournament First Four game vs. UCLA in Dayton, head coach Mark Schmidt brought up a topic many fans around the country – those unfamiliar with his squad or its collection of talent that had answered every challenge during the year – might have been thinking.
St. Bonaventure, the school of fewer than 2,000 undergraduates and without an NCAA Tournament win since 1970, against UCLA?
Sure, Bona was fresh off a 13-game winning streak and the Bonnies had won 25 games to earn a spot in the field of 68.
But here they were under the national spotlight, playing one of college basketball's blue bloods. Did they really belong? Would they be intimidated by the opponent or the stage?
"Intimidated?" Schmidt scoffed in the Bonaventure locker room in front of his team. "For what? We're here because we deserve to be here. You grow up in your neighborhood and would you ever have thought you would be playing against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament? You have a chance to play in front of the entire country. How much better can that be?"
Later that night, many Bonnies fans were asking themselves the same thing – how much better could it be?
St. Bonaventure, a team led by the backcourt of Jaylen Adams, who received only scholarship offers from low-major programs before SBU came calling, and Matt Mobley, who started his college career at Central Connecticut, did what those uninformed national fans might have thought unthinkable.
The kids from the small Western New York school not only had earned their bid to the NCAA Tournament, they more than proved themselves worthy by knocking off UCLA, 65-58, in front of a crowd so full of Bonnies fans that the game might as well have been played at the Reilly Center.
And perhaps fittingly, while Bona's outstanding backcourt struggled, one of its greatest underdog stories led the way with a performance folks in these parts will talk about for decades.
Courtney Stockard, who started his career in junior college before sitting out two entire seasons with foot injuries, captivated the nation with his 26-point effort, willing his team past the Bruins despite being questionable just a day before due to an injury suffered the previous weekend.
Last year's group of Bonnies took their spot in program history alongside other famous teams in Bonaventure lore – the unforgettable 1970 Final Four team, the 1977 NIT championship squad, the 2000 NCAA Tournament edition among others.
Wednesday night, that team was forever immortalized with the dedication of a 2018 NCAA banner to remind all who enter the Reilly Center of a group of student-athletes who defied the odds to return Bonaventure to the national stage.
It was a season that began with the highest of hopes, anticipation the likes of which hadn't been seen in Olean in years. Fresh off back-to-back 20-win seasons and bringing back perhaps the nation's best backcourt, Bonnies fans dared to dream big.
But from the start, obstacles mounted. A pair of punches were thrown at the team immediately as Adams went down with an injury in an exhibition game and the season opened with a shocking setback at home vs. Niagara. Adams would miss the first six games of the year and though he returned in December, the Bonnies opened the Atlantic 10 schedule at 2-4.
But, after a loss at Davidson on Jan. 19, the Bonnies, with perhaps the majority of their pre-season buzz gone in the eyes of some outsiders, would not lose again for nearly two months.
Thirteen straight wins. Complete domination at home that saw the Brown and White win their final 13 games at The RC after the opener. Electric performances from Adams and Mobley that captivated fans. An amazing late season surge that saw Stockard achieve and surpass any expectations. Outstanding efforts from unsung senior Idris Taqqee and continuing improvement from the likes of LaDarien Griffin and Amadi Ikpeze.
It all led up to a Selection Sunday Bonnies everywhere will always remember – erasing the pain of the same day two years prior, a snub that only left Bona Nation all the more triumphant when "St. Bonaventure" popped up on the screen of at-large bids.
And finally, a game and a moment no supporter of the program and of the University could forget – this special group of Bonnies proudly popping their jerseys, displaying "St. Bonaventure" for the millions of television viewers to see. It was a win that clinched a program record for victories with 26, as if this team could ever be forgotten otherwise.
"You're the kids from your neighborhood who they thought, eh, I don't know," Schmidt said during his pre-game speech. "You put in all that time, all that work. You're here because you deserve to be here. You're the kids that made it."