ALLEGANY – Mark Schmidt sat in the interview room after the game Saturday with his hand on his forehead, blaming nobody in particular while knowing many were at fault for this doozy. In a sense, it was a loss for St. Bonaventure on many levels that extended beyond his team.
Let’s all agree that a perfect storm of stupidity ruined an otherwise fantastic game in one of the great venues in college sports. The Reilly Center is a jewel, an old barn with 5,480 seats and rabid fans that are so close to the action that they can practically hear the players whispering in each other’s ears.
And when a conference opponent comes to down for a big game, like Virginia Commonwealth did Saturday afternoon, it becomes our version of Cameron Indoor or the Palestra in Philly or any other hot, stuffy joint that’s loaded with charm and energized fans who share a deep passion for the game.
You can’t beat the atmosphere, really, but Saturday marked a low point in which the Reilly Center atmosphere wound up beating the Bonnies. This strange-but-true basketball story is so absurd, and perhaps unprecedented, that Schmidt and VCU coach Will Wade were at a loss for words.
“Just a crazy game,” Wade said. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Join the club.
To review: Matt Mobley buried a three-pointer from the right wing to give the Bonnies a 66-65 lead with a half-second remaining. Students spontaneously combusted over Mobley’s shot, prematurely stormed the court, forced officials to assess a technical foul on the Bonnies and effectively forced overtime.
VCU was the better team in OT, as it was for a majority of regulation, and escaped with an 83-77 victory. The same Bona players and coaches who leaped off the bench in jubilation and joined the celebration on the court 15 minutes earlier ended up moping into their locker room with barely a whimper.
Blame the students? Sure. Fans storming courts became such a problem a few years ago that the NCAA started fining schools for poor security and failing to prevent such celebrations. It spiraled out of control, and coaches became terrified that their players would get injured during a melee.
You know college kids. They don’t need a victory over a ranked team to celebrate. A good many left the building not even realizing they were the reason St. Bonaventure was given the technical, which led to JeQuan Lewis calmly sinking the free throw that sent the game into overtime.
Students were outraged with the officials when they should have been upset with themselves. A few years ago, Bona students stormed the court after a win over … Canisius, for heaven’s sake. Jim Baron, a former Bona star and Canisius’ coach at the time, was beside himself while talking about their behavior.
“I was a little bit surprised that they stormed the court,” Baron said after that game. “I mean, Canisius? It’s not a shocking one there. You do it for VCU.”
Well, fans were amped up for VCU well before the 4 p.m. tipoff. The Rams were atop the Atlantic 10 standings. The students darned near blew the lid off the place when Mobley made a three-pointer on the Bonnies’ first possession, so imagine their euphoria after his three in the last second of regulation.
Security didn’t stand a chance, especially after the clock operator inexplicably ran out the final half-second. It reminded me of the scene in the classic college flick, “Animal House,” when a riot breaks out and a helpless rent-a-cop stands in the middle of street amid the chaos saying, “Remain calm. All … is … well.”
“There were people all over the place,” Wade said. “It’s an odd deal. I thought the crowd was great. I thought the support was tremendous. We’ll certainly take what happened.”
My advice to Bona fans, in accordance with Animal House, was to start drinking heavily.
Blame the public-address announcer? Sure. The wise move would have been reminding students, during consecutive timeouts with 3.2 seconds remaining the second half, to stay in their seats. I remember them saying as much 30-plus years ago when Niagara upset No. 3 St. John’s, just before students rushed the floor at the Niagara Convention Center and tore down the backboards.
Blame the university? Sure, but there’s only so much security the school can provide before turning the Reilly Center into the Pentagon. College sports should be fun, and there was a whole bunch of people having a whole bunch of fun while watching a slugfest for 39 minutes and 59½ seconds.
Blame the officials? No. The rules are clear. Storm the court and delay the game, which is exactly what happened, and a technical is assessed to the host team. Both coaches agreed that a "T" needed to be called. If there was anything strange, it was Wade showing sympathy for St. Bonaventure while Schmidt showed very little.
“It takes some guts to call that,” Wade said. “That is the rule. As a coach, you’re a little desperate and trying to get them to call it.”
“It shouldn’t happen, but it did,” Schmidt said. “Now we have to move forward.”
You had to feel for the St. Bonaventure considering how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Schmidt was right. They matched a tough, competitive team in VCU that was coming off victories over A-10 powers in Dayton and Richmond. They battled. They scrapped. And they thought they had it won.
What’s sad about the ending is that it took away from a great game. Mobley finished with a career-high 34 points and made a school-record nine three-pointers. Jaylen Adams had 21 points, including 14 of 15 from the free-throw line. Mo Alie-Cox had a season-high 20 points for VCU, who played suffocating defense against Bona.
“To have our guys lose that way, it’s a travesty,” Schmidt said. “That’s a game they can remember the rest of their life. Matt’s shot, the way he played, it shouldn’t come down to that. But it did.”