DALLAS – Sure it crossed his mind. How could it not? Jaylen Adams had missed his first eight shots in the biggest game of his career. He had spent his lifetime working toward and fantasizing about playing in the NCAA Tournament. It came true after a spectacular senior year at St. Bonaventure.
Adams was playing against UCLA, the most storied program in history with its 11 national titles, the Yankees of college basketball. However brief, there were moments in the game Tuesday in Dayton in which Adams couldn't help but wonder if his worst fears would become reality.
THIS is how it's going to end?
"For sure," Adams said while the Bonnies prepared for a game Thursday night against sixth-seeded Florida. "Those thoughts definitely crept in there. It's hard to avoid, especially when they had that (7-0) run late in the game. It was like, 'Damn, man, this is not how I want to go out.' "
Adams found the basket when he made a layup with about three minutes remaining in the first half. He missed a free throw later in the game, a rarity and a sign he wasn't right and nowhere near the top of his game. He kept shooting because that's what shooters do, and he misfired on six more.
"It would be a concern if you saw him get into these – quote – slumps, and they persist," Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. "He's not that type of player. If he has a bad game, he's going to bounce back with a good one, for the most part. We have no concerns. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."
Adams was never one to search for his shot, mainly because he never considered himself a scorer despite leading the Bonnies in that department this season. He was, and forever will be, a pass-first point guard who could score. In back-to-back 40-point games last month, he took only 40 shots and made 28.
His efficiency made him a great player and circumstance made him the highest-scoring guard in Bona history. He was a four-year starter who put up points when needed but almost always made sure his shots came in the natural flow of the game. He was never a gunner. Suddenly, against UCLA, he was forcing shots.
He was pressing. And he was missing.
For his career to end that way would have been a shame. Adams' confidence may have been shaken against UCLA but he was unwavering in his resolve. He never considered passing up an open shot with the game on the line against the Bruins, regardless of what happened earlier. If the game was on the line, he was letting it fly.
"He's the reason we're here," guard Matt Mobley said. "Everybody believes in him. He can go 0 for 10, and I'm telling him to keep shooting. He can hit five or six in a row, just like that. We have complete confidence in him. He could miss 100 shots, and I think the next 100 will fall."
Courtney Stockard had kept the Bonnies in the first half and took over the game during parts of the second. Without him, Bona wouldn't have stood a chance going into the final eight minutes, before they had put together a 12-0 run. Without Adams, the season would have ended last weekend.
The moment of truth came, as it always does. The ball seems to find players who are struggling in sports. The second baseman booted two routine grounders? Bet the ranch the next ball put in play is coming his way. Another chance is just that, another opportunity for success or another layer of failure.
St. Bonaventure was tied, 58-58, going into the final 60 seconds after watching a seven-point lead disappear in about 2½ minutes. Adams was 1 for 15 when he found an open jump shot from just inside the 3-point line. Others might have passed the ball under the same circumstances. Nobody would have blamed Adams, either, if he did.
But he let it fly.
He gave the Bonnies a 60-58 lead with 48 seconds remaining. He added three free throws in the final 27 seconds, giving his team a surge it needed late in the game and coming through under pressure in a 65-58 victory. In a game he would rather forget, he made a difference and helped St. Bonaventure advance to the Round of 64 against Florida.
Know this about Jaylen Adams: Over his four seasons at St. Bonaventure, his only concern has been winning. He never took joy out of playing well in a loss, never punished himself for playing poorly in a win. Of course he was relieved the Bonnies survived, but what you saw afterward was pure joy.
"I'm glad I get another chance to put on the uniform," he said. "My mentality has always been to shoot. I know I can shoot the ball. I know I can play basketball. When the shot's not falling, you have to keep fighting through it. Everybody had their rough nights. It's something you have to bounce back from."
St. Bonaventure accomplished a few things with the victory over UCLA. The Bonnies' improved to 26-7, breaking the program record for wins in a season. It gave them their first win in the Big Dance in 48 years. It gave Florida another player to worry about in Stockard, who had 26 points Tuesday.
And it allowed Adams to press the reset button.
Every player has slumps, but the best don't get bogged down by one bad performance. The math is bound to take over. Adams scoring eight points on 2-for-16 shooting, missing a dozen or so shots around the rim, seemed an anomaly. The percentages suggest he'll play better in his next game.
Mobley was 2 for 9 before making two big jumpers late against UCLA. He finished 4 of 12 with 14 points. Their total against Tuesday was 16 points under their combined average. They actually gained confidence, knowing Bona could be dangerous if their shots started falling.
If the Bonnies can beat UCLA when both have off nights, imagine what can happen when both get hot.
"Scary – super scary," Adams said. "Me and Mobe, it's almost due time for us to get clicking at the same time. I look forward to playing (Florida). Even when you play bad, you can't wait to lace them back up. This is my last leg. The fact we're here on my last leg is a great feeling. I just want to keep winning."