DALLAS – For four years, Jaylen Adams had been the one constant. St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt handed over the offense about 20 minutes into their first practice together and watched him lead his team to unexpected heights that also were unprecedented for 48 years.
Perhaps carrying the load in so many games finally caught up to Adams with his career winding down. Or maybe it was playing four games in less than a week in three different sites. Or maybe it was just a rare rough patch that came at an inopportune time. Nobody really knows why or how a player falls into a funk.
But there was no disputing Adams was out of sorts again Thursday night in a 77-62 loss to Florida in the NCAA Tournament. The confidence he showed all season before it waned while shooting 2 for 16 in the First Four win over UCLA continued to elude him in the Round of 64. The energy he had all season had abandoned him in recent weeks.
The kid looked spent.
"It could be it," Adams said while fighting back tears. "I felt like I was just running out of gas toward the end of the season. It's just one of those things."
Nobody should feel sorry for St. Bonaventure, which had one heck of a year while going 26-8, or Adams, who had one whale of a career. He was a three-time all-Atlantic 10 Conference selection and was named co-Player of the Year this season. He led the Bonnies to three straight 20-win seasons and will leave as one of the best guards ever to play for St. Bonaventure.
He'll return someday to see his No. 3 jersey raised to the rafters of the Reilly Center. He'll have an opportunity to play in the NBA.
Adams knew his college career was drawing to a close and was intent on cherishing every moment he could, while he could, while taking his team on a wonderful ride. It was just a shame a terrific season for the Bonnies and a tremendous career ended the way it did. Most players don't choose the means of their exit, but it almost always comes in defeat.
Adams didn't make his first basket until he drove the lane with 8:24 remaining in the game. By then, Florida was in command with a 54-37 lead on their way to handing St. Bonaventure its most lopsided loss of the season. He finished with 11 points on 2 of 6 shooting. He left the floor with 44 seconds remaining, shook hands with Schmidt and his teammates and sat down.
The strange thing about Adams was that he had already escaped an ugly ending when the Bonnies beat UCLA. It was as if he had been given a reprieve. He was thrilled to wear the uniform for another game. He took comfort in the idea he was too talented for another bad day.
One bad game doesn't sound alarms, not for players with his ability. At least he contributed in other ways against UCLA. He still ran the point and served as the primary distributor, which had been his calling. He made a big bucket late in the game and three critical free throws down the stretch.
It was impossible to help the Bonnies from the bench Thursday. Adams was whistled for three fouls in the first 10 minutes and took a seat for the rest of the half. Schmidt left him in the game after he picked up his second foul 7:39 into the game because he trusted his leader and had little choice. Adams was the smartest player Schmidt ever coached, and Bona desperately needed him.
The Bonnies were fortunate to trail by only five points going into intermission after manufacturing a 12-1 run and momentarily grabbing the lead before Florida pushed back, as you knew it would. Florida scored the first nine points of the second half and built a 36-22 lead, reducing the odds of a comeback and punching a hole in Bona's will.
St. Bonaventure wasn't coming back, not this time. They were too sloppy with the ball and too loose on defense. They didn't play well enough to beat good teams in the A-10 let alone a sound, experienced team from a power conference.
"They jumped on us," Schmidt said. "We were fighting an uphill battle from there."
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 started forcing shots.
Adams was pressing again Thursday. Making matters worse for the Bonnies was Courtney Stockard's effectiveness was either left behind in Dayton or taken away by Florida. He finished with 14 points while Matt Mobley had 10 after failing to score in the second half. He also looked fried after logging so many minutes and helping Adams carry the load.
"We just couldn't get over the hump," Mobley said. "It was a long season. We played a lot of games. Minutes add up. It shouldn't be an excuse, but we're human. I hate for us to go out like that. I'm happy we didn't quit. All good things must come to an end."
It was another layer in an emotional week for the Bonnies and their fans. They were terrified about not getting invited to the Big Dance after losing in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. They were quietly confident for the UCLA game. Going into the game Thursday, they were extremely loose.
And then the game started.
The Bonnies never quit. They played hard, but they didn't play well. They needed their best game of the season to take down Florida and fell well short. They played like a team that suffered a hangover after winning a big game in a long season. It's entirely possible they were caught trying to catch their breath.
St. Bonaventure's clunker doesn't take away from the fact that it had a terrific season, which included a program-record 26 victories and its first NCAA Tournament victory in 48 seasons. They beat three teams from power conferences – Maryland, Syracuse and UCLA and re-introduced themselves to the nation.
It doesn't happen without Adams leading them. The Bonnies knew as much long before the season came to an end Thursday. He ended his career knowing he left everything on the floor. But after taking his team as far as he could, for as long as he could, he simply had nothing left to offer.
"I gave it everything I had," he said. "I just wish I had more to give."