Andrew Nicholson belongs to history now and we're free to debate where his dominant performance against Ohio University on Saturday ranks among the most memorable in the history of St. Bonaventure basketball. Perhaps years later, when someone has fully dissected the Bonnies' breathtaking 112-107 four-overtime triumph over the Bobcats, it may be argued that Nicholson wasn't even the best player on the floor.
Nicholson, the Bonnies' scintillating junior center, scored a career-high 44 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in 60 minutes, but not to be outdone was the dauntless D.J. Cooper. The Ohio sophomore point guard poured in 43 points and registered 13 assists, eight rebounds and eight steals, a stunning outing that is arguably the finest ever by an opponent at the Reilly Center.
Because of turnovers (24) and missed free throws (30 of 48), the game was seemingly won, lost, given away and finally won again by St. Bonaventure (6-3). Ironically, the Bonnies took the lead for good at 101-99 on two free throws by Nicholson just over a minute into the final overtime. Nicholson scored five of Bona's first seven points in the last OT.
"We had them and sometimes they had us," St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. "Somehow we found a way and showed some mental toughness."
After a layup by reserve guard Matthew Wright with 16 seconds left, St. Bonaventure led, 110-103, and the 3,053 Reilly Center fans could finally breathe again after the first four-overtime game in school history.
"Both teams had players who could make plays," Ohio coach John Groce said. "Obviously they had one who could make a few more."
So Nicholson can place this game among some of the best in Western New York history. Bona All-American and Buffalo native Bob Lanier still holds the school record for most points in a game with 51 against Seton Hall in the Reilly Center in 1969.
Seton Hall probably sent waves of double and triple teams at Lanier, like Ohio did with Nicholson, but he still managed to hit nine of his first 10 shots.
"It was terrific, you can't get much better than that," Schmidt said. "He went to the foul line a ton, he was our go-to guy when we needed buckets. Forty-four points and 12 rebounds says a lot."
Which number from Nicholson's brilliant composition will earn the most praise over time? The 44 points? Hitting 14 of 19 from the field with defenders draped all over him? The 60 minutes played?
"My main goal was to win it, no matter how long it took," Nicholson said. "It was fun. We played four overtimes and we're tired."
Then there was Cooper, the Mid-American Conference preseason player of the year who played like one of the premier guards in the country. He hoisted 41 shots and connected on 17 in 55 minutes as the Bobcats erased two 10-point St. Bonaventure leads in regulation.
Cooper was not made available to the media following the game.
"I've been the most blessed guy in the world with the number of great players that I've been around as an assist and head coach so certainly it was a memorable performance for sure," Groce said about Cooper.
Cooper followed a steal with an NBA range three-pointer with 19.9 seconds left that sent the game into the first overtime. Little did anyone know that the fun was only beginning:
In the first overtime, Cooper kissed a shot high off the glass that fell through and tied the game at 87 with 17 seconds left. With 2.9 seconds remaining, T.J. Hall was called for a foul which sent the Ohio bench seething and Demitrius Conger to the free-throw line but he missed both tries.
A defensive breakdown left the Bobcats' Asown Sayles open for a three-pointer with 37 seconds remaining in the second overtime but Michael Davenport came hard off a screen and drained a three-pointer near the top of the key that tied the game at 97 with 21 seconds left. Wright stole a pass attempt by Hall as time expired.
Nothing overly dramatic in the third overtime as fatigue seemed to set in for both teams. There was only one field goal -- a jumper by Reggie Keely with 2:41 left -- and the Bonnies missed six consecutive free throws until Conger connected on a pair with 30.4 seconds left that tied the game at 99. Cooper missed a runner and Ricardo Johnson missed a wide-open tip-in that would have won the game for Ohio.
In the final period, Bona outscored the Bobcats, 13-8. During one stretch when Nicholson was unstoppable and Ohio's fouls were piling up, Groce yelled at an official, "You're treating this guy like Jordan!"
In the end, Nicholson had stats like him too.