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Bucky Gleason: Despite loss, St. Bonaventure should be ready for Big Dance party

WASHINGTON – St. Bonaventure didn't wait until the end of the Atlantic 10 Tournament to invite supporters to a watch party. The plan rolled out late Friday called for season ticket-holders and students to gather in the Reilly Center on Sunday for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

The Bonnies have some of the most passionate fans in college basketball, as anyone who has ever attended one of their games would attest.  In recent years, it has become the Southern Tier's version of Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Palestra or some other cool joint that loves college basketball.

But the watch party made for a conflict of sorts. The Bonnies wanted no part of attending a celebration in their honor. It would have meant they were sent home before getting a chance to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament Sunday afternoon in Capital One Arena and sticking around while the brackets were unveiled.

"It didn't go according to plan," senior Idris Taqqee said. "It happens."

Yeah, things happen sometimes. St. Bonaventure had won 13 straight games before running into a Davidson team that shot its way past the Bonnies and into the A-10 final with an 82-70 victory Saturday. Bona was bound to lose at some point. Fortunate for them, they added a big win Friday over Richmond before tasting defeat a day later.

Davidson, which will meet Rhode Island in the A-10 final, would have been a tough out for anybody with the way it shot from the perimeter Saturday. It seemed like they couldn’t miss in the first 10 minutes, as if the entire team was in The Zone the way Matt Mobley was the previous evening while scoring 29 points in the quarterfinals.

Jaylen Adams led the Bonnies with 20 points and eight assists against Davidson, which double-teamed him all afternoon. Mobley added 17 points. Bona made a charge in the second half before Davidson pulled away with Peyton Aldridge, who shared Player of the Year honors with Adams, and freshman Kellan Grady.

Bona was without Courtney Stockard, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered Friday. He scored the first 17 points for Bona and finished with a career-high 31 points in a triple-overtime win over Davidson two weeks ago. The junior swingman was averaging 26.2 points in his past four games.

The Wildcats came out firing and never stopped. They made seven 3s before making a 2. They didn't even attempt a 2-point shot until 6:45 remained in the first half. They made 16 3-pointers in all, second-most in the history of the tournament. Aldridge made 6 of 7 from long range and had a game-high 24 points.

Bona was down 60-59 with 6:59 remaining before a 16-6 run by Davidson. Aldridge hit two 3s and scored on a dunk off an inbounds play during the run. Grady had a three-point play and dagger 3 on consecutive possessions for a 76-65 lead with 1:47 left.

"Every time we broke down, they hit a three," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "They missed 13 of them, but it seemed like they only missed three. They shot the ball really well, and they're really hard to guard."

Hey, it happens.

Here's what should happen, and many believe will happen when the full field is announced Sunday: St. Bonaventure gets an at-large invitation for the second time since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They refused to get caught up in metrics and bracketology, but most prognosticators view them between a ninth and 11th seed.

"Hopefully, what we did is enough," Adams said. "I don't know. I think the resume speaks for itself. I'm just hoping for the best."

St. Bonaventure hasn't played in the NCAAs since 2012, when it won the A-10 Tournament and earned an automatic berth with Andrew Nicholson. The Bonnies received an at-large invitation in 2000 before losing in double-overtime to Kentucky in the first round. Two years ago, they were snubbed after winning a share of the conference title.

Of course, Bona fans will be sweating out the selection process. It's what Bona fans do. My advice: chill out and enjoy the next week. We're not talking about some bubble team. They're a virtual lock given their resume, which includes non-conference victories over Maryland at a neutral site, Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, another at home over Rhode Island and 13 in row before Saturday.

The only reason for hedging with the word "virtual" is because it hasn't been officially announced. You're never completely sure until the selection committee makes it official, but every indication points toward them getting into the Big Dance. It would be one of the biggest slights in NCAA history if they weren’t chosen.

"They certainly are, in my judgment, deserving of an at-large bid," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "I hope the committee feels it's something they earned with their body of work this year. … It's not that it's a no-brainer, but they're clearly a team that should be off the bubble."

St. Bonaventure beat Rhode Island, which had won 16 straight and was ranked 16th in the country at the time before finishing first in the Atlantic 10. Bona finished second in the conference with a 14-4 record, one game behind the Rams. The Bonnies were ranked 26th in the country going into the A-10 tourney and 21st in Ratings Percentage Index. They didn't lose a game between Jan. 19 and Saturday afternoon.

Let's not forget history: The A-10 has had at least three teams invited to the Big Dance for the past decade. They certainly pass the eye test.

What more do they need?

"I don't know if we could have done any better," Schmidt said. "We won 13 straight games. We've had some huge non-conference wins. We’ve had some big wins in our league. I don't think there was a hotter team going into the postseason than us. Everybody talks about two years ago. Our resume is better than it was two years ago."

Two years ago, Adams was sitting in the lounge inside the locker room when he suggested Schmidt to schedule games against better non-conference opponents. It started as a player joking with his coach, but it had merit when it contributed to St. Bonaventure watching the Big Dance from home.

The Bonnies were convinced at the time that they had the goods despite losing to – who else? – Davidson in the quarterfinals. The players watched from the Hall of Fame room in the Reilly Center while the teams were announced. This year, after Bona reached the semifinals, the university invited the entire community for what should be a formality.

This year, it happens.

"It would mean the world to them," Schmidt said. "If you sat in that room two years ago, it was heartbreaking because those guys put everything into it, and they thought they were in. So it would mean the world to them."

 

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