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Bucky Gleason: St. Bona's win over SU was for fans who made trip

Bucky Gleason

SYRACUSE – Jaylen Adams was still drowning in euphoria after the game Friday night when he slipped away from the visitors' locker room and made his way back to the court. The senior was hoping for a brief visit with his mother after one of the biggest wins of his career at St. Bonaventure.

That's when he heard the noise radiating from within the Carrier Dome, an outpouring of support from Bonnies' fans who caught his attention early in the game and made their voices heard all night. They had made their way down from the cheap seats in the upper deck while swallowing every available ounce of victory.

"It was easily 100 people, probably 200 people," Adams said with a smile. "I must have taken a thousand pictures out there. But I don't mind that stuff because the fan support is so crazy. I just wanted to show the same love they showed me. I felt it in the game. When we made a shot, it was LOUD."

The best estimate, based on ticket sales that came through St. Bonaventure before the game and other packages, suggested there were about 2,000 fans in attendance who supported the Bonnies in their 60-57 overtime victory over Syracuse. As anyone who has ever been to a game in the Reilly Center would attest, it sounded more like 20,000.

And when Bona built a comfortable lead in the first half and padded its advantage in the second, when the Bonnies darned near gave away everything in the final 11 minutes and survived overtime, when they finally took down Syracuse for the first time ever on Jim Boeheim Court, there remained a sense of utter disbelief.

Did that just happen?

Indeed, it did.

St. Bonaventure did, in fact, beat Syracuse for the first time since Jan. 26, 1981, the night Boeheim vowed to never again bring his team to Olean. The Bonnies did, in fact, have one field goal in the final 16 minutes, 40 seconds of the game against an Atlantic Coast Conference team and lived to tell about it.

They did, in fact, win a game in the Dome before 20,976 fans who were treated to a wild game that could have gone either way in what evolved into two teams battling to find out which would shoot worse. An otherwise gruesome display had turned into something beautiful when Bona left with a win that was a long time in the making.

Bucky Gleason: St. Bonaventure beats Syracuse in OT for first win in Carrier Dome

"It's a passion," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "Wherever we go, whether it's some small town or a big city, we always have a following. There were times it felt like it was a home game tonight. I was happy we could give them a good show.

"We have a good program, and we've had some success," Schmidt said. "This is a great night for Bonaventure basketball. We had never beaten them here (in the Dome) in 10 tries. Syracuse is a team that everybody tries to knock off. The small school from Olean did it tonight. We're proud of what we accomplished."

None of it would have been possible without Adams, who was electric in the first half while scoring 21 points and confirming growing belief the Bonnies were finally ready to beat Syracuse. One indication was UB giving Syracuse a good game Tuesday night in the same place.

Adams made 6 of 9 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, in the first half and attempted only one shot after halftime. But he came through with two critical free throws with 6.1 seconds remaining to deal the deal and finished with 23 points. Once again, he was the best player on the floor.

Still, one question lingered against the Orange: Could the Bonnies and their leader hold it together long enough to win?

For a while, it seemed the Bonnies were intent on throw away the game. Syracuse adjusted and shut down Adams while Bona crumbled under a full-court press. St. Bonaventure had a 13-point lead before succumbing to the pressure. They scored 13 measly points in 25 minutes after halftime – and they still won.

Bona missed 10 shots within 3 feet of the bucket in the first 30 minutes of the game and still had an 11-point lead. They were 6 of 23 in the second half while Syracuse was 5 of 23. Courtney Stockard made 5 of 6 free throws and drew a charge with 12 seconds remaining in overtime. The Bonnies played terrific defense in OT.

"We always talk about our game isn't pretty," Schmidt said. "It's a junkyard dog mentality. That's what we showed. I'm just proud of the effort they gave. The offense didn't affect their defense. We made the plays that needed to be made. … We don't have shot-blockers. We have charge-takers."

For a while, you wonder if anyone from either team was going to take charge. Syracuse continued cranking up its defense before tying the game, 53-53, when 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu converted a three-point play with 1:12 remaining. Neither team scored in the remaining 72 seconds, forcing overtime.

"This team fought," Boeheim said. "They did everything they could to get back in it, but it's hard to win when you shoot 30 percent from the field and 15 percent from the three-point line. This team fights as hard as it possible can, and that's all you can ask for."

St. Bonaventure scored an upset, certainly, but really it was a mild one. It was similar to an 11th seed beating a sixth seed in the NCAA tournament, which happens almost every year. Bona's shortcomings were similar to UB's earlier in the week. They had just as much talent, or more, but lacked length.

It wasn't as if the Bonnies were terrified when walking into the Dome on Friday. Let's not forget the Bonnies beat Maryland last month in the Emerald Classic in Florida. They were well aware that they could win if they played sound defense and limited Syracuse on the backboard, particularly the offensive glass.

Bona showed it was the better team early. The Bonnies proved they could take a punch from a team in a power conference. They confirmed they could fight through adversity. It was obvious from beginning to end even if the outcome was not. But for the fans who screamed from the rooftops, there was never a doubt.

"It's a tremendous feeling," Adams said. "Christmas is coming, we're 10-2. I'm just glad that we could get the win. It wasn't pretty. We had to scrap for it. It says a lot about the guys that we have. We're shooting 26 percent in the second half, and we still win the game. It's crazy."

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