DAYTON, Ohio – Courtney Stockard had been terrific heading into the game, so it wasn't like his performance Tuesday came out of nowhere. You just never know how a player is going to perform under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament against a storied program like UCLA, especially when he's coming off an injury.
But the true measure of a player is whether he shows up when it matters most against a so-called superior opponent. Stockard was on a mission Tuesday in St. Bonaventure's biggest game in years. He did everything he could and more while scoring 26 points in a thrilling 65-58 victory over UCLA in a First Four matchup in University of Dayton Arena.
Look out, Dallas.
Here come the Bonnies with their collection of scrappy players like Stockard who refused to cower to a team from a power conference on a night in which their two best players, Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, were nowhere near top form. St. Bonaventure won its first game in the Big Dance since Bob Lanier led them to the Final Four in 1970.
Stockard had averaged 23.3 points over his previous four contests before he was sidelined with a sore hamstring Saturday in a loss to Davidson in the Atlantic 10 tournament. He had missed the past two seasons with a broken foot, similar to the one that hampered Sammy Watkins during his days with the Bills, and he still wasn't 100 percent Tuesday.
"Coming out today, I just wanted to be aggressive, especially knowing they were going to key on Jay and Matt," Stockard said. "And doing that I helped us get a win. Shout-out to my teammates."
Adams is a terrific player and he could play in the NBA someday. St. Bonaventure wouldn't have been in the same stratosphere as the Big Dance without him, but there's no getting around the fact he had a rough night in the biggest game of his career. He was 2 for 16 and darned near shot Bona out of the tournament before coming through in the closing minutes.
St. Bonaventure had a 58-51 lead with 3:54 remaining before UCLA answered with a 7-0 run that’s set up a fantastic finish. Adams gave Bona a 62-58 lead with 27 seconds left after burying a jump shot and two free throws. Adams added another free throw with 20 seconds left to seal the game and advance to the Round of 64.
St. Bonaventure appeared to confuse and fluster UCLA with an assortment of defenses, playing mostly zone in an effort to take away the perimeter and negate UCLA's size advantage. Bona coach Mark Schmidt made the right adjustments that helped limit UCLA's offense, but he couldn't coach Adams out of a shooting slump.
In the end, it didn't matter.
"It just shows what kind of team we could beat," Adams said. "Credit UCLA's defense. I couldn't get into a rhythm. A lot of nerves going out there for the first game. I'm glad we could get them out of the way. I look forward to Thursday."
Florida earned a No. 6 seed after finishing 20-12 during the regular season after going 6-1 against teams ranked in the Top 25. The Gators finished third in the Southeastern Conference with an 11-7 record. They were led by junior transfer Jalen Hudson, a 6-foot-5 guard averaging 15.3 points per game.
Since the NCAA moved to 68 teams in 2011, five No. 11 seeds that came out of the First Four ended up advancing to the Round of 32 or farther. Virginia Commonwealth reached the Final Four in 2011, and Tennessee reached the Sweet 16 in 2014. St. Bonaventure needed 48 years to win a tournament game and had less the 48 hours to prepare for the next one.
You might want to think twice about betting against the Bonnies, who are flying high.
"I'm proud to be the head coach at St. Bonaventure," Schmidt said. "I'm proud of our team and the accomplishments that we've had, but we're not done. We want to continue. And that 2 a.m. flight is going to be the best flight I've ever taken."
Stockard showed no ill-effects of a hamstring injury that sidelined him Saturday in the loss to Davidson. He also showed no signs of being intimidated. He attacked the basket for easy shots inside. He drew fouls and made shots from the perimeter. He refused to be stopped.
He nailed a three-pointer and gave St. Bonaventure a 53-51 lead after going coast-to-coast for a layup with 6:05 remaining. He never buckled when it appeared UCLA was ready to pull away. Instead, UCLA folded while the Bonnies took off on a 12-0 run.
Adams finished with eight points while Mobley, who also hit a big shot late, had 14. Stockard came ready to play, and Bona showed up ready to play defense. The Bruins made two field goals and scored six points over the final 14 minutes of the half. St. Bonaventure battled for rebounds and loose balls, as it had all year, and showed UCLA it was willing to fight.
It may have felt like a big game in many places, but UCLA played like it was just another Tuesday. The harsh truth, UCLA was U-G-L-Y. The Bruins had worse travel conditions with little time to prepare, but that's how the NCAA Tournament works. It lends itself to annual upsets that have come to define March Madness.
"Great job by Mark and his staff," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "Credit their defense, but we were very uncharacteristic on offense."
When a team wins 13 games in a row, there's a tendency to believe they suddenly clicked or magically came together. The Bonnies have been a work in progress. They learned how to play without Adams early in the season. They gained confidence from beating Maryland and Syracuse. They gained strength from losing four of five games during a stretch in January.
Atlantic 10 teams generally play a different, more complete brand of basketball than teams from power conferences. Most starters are 6-foot-8 or shorter in the A-10 with a few under-skilled big men sprinkled on various rosters. UCLA had five players who were 6-10 or taller, but it didn't make them more effective.
St. Bonaventure didn't have many distinct advantages over UCLA going into the game, but it figured to have an edge in speed and familiarity. The Bonnies' best bet was turning the game into a track meet, running the Bruins out of the building and shooting over the trees rather than going through them. Stockard ran through them, shot over them and ultimately beat them.
People fawn over Adams and Mobley, and rightfully so. One or both can light up a scoreboard at any moment against any opponent. But the true constant for the Bonnies after their loss Jan. 19 to Davidson had been its defense.
Bona held its opponent to fewer than 80 points or fewer in regulation 11 times during the final 14 games. Seven opponents scored fewer than 80 over the same span. Davidson scored 113 points but 35 came during three overtime periods. Davidson scored 82 points when beating Bona in the A-10 semifinals.
It's the side of St. Bonaventure's success that often was overlooked this season amid the fantastic finishes against Rhode Island and Davidson or Adams posting back-to-back 40-point games. They won five games during the stretch by five points or less because they buckled down, protected their basket and rebounded.
The Bonnies weren't about to change their style. It worked all year. It was all they knew. Their only choice was hoping it was enough.
And guess what? It was.
"We just beat UCLA," Schmidt said. "How much prouder can I be?"