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What we said 50 years ago when St. Bonaventure made Final Four

EDITOR'S NOTE: On March 14, 1970, St. Bonaventure beat Villanova, 97-74, in the East Regional final to advance to the Final Four. As much happiness as there was for the victory, there was concern about an injury to star Bob Lanier. Below is what The News’ Cy Kritzer wrote from Columbia, S.C., on the game and the injury.

St. Bonaventure will honor the 50th anniversary of the Final Four team on Saturday at the Reilly Center on a busy day. The Bona women face the University at Buffalo at noon, followed by the Bona men vs. Hofstra. At halftime of the men’s game, nine members of the school’s centennial team will be honored. The 1970 team will be part of a postgame ceremony.

The centennial team and Final Four team will be honored at a sold-out gala on campus Saturday night, and the Final Four team will be honored before Sunday’s Bills game at New Era Field.

COLUMBIA, S.C., March 16 — Bob Lanier, St. Bonaventure’s All-America basketball center, is recovering today in Buffalo General Hospital after an operation on his right knee Sunday.

The Bonnies' hopes for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament championship, however, may never recover from the loss of the 6-foot 11-inch Lanier.

The Brown Indians wrapped up the NCAA Eastern Regional title here Saturday and avenged their only loss in 26 games, in a 97-74 romp over Villanova. Lanier scored 26 points before he was injured in a freak accident with less than 10 minutes to play in the game.

Thursday night in the national semi-finals in College Park, Md., Bona goes against college basketball’s tallest team, Jacksonville U.

‘Sorry Lanier is out’

Without Lanier, the Bonnies have no one to match Jacksonville’s 7-2 Artis Gilmore or 7-foot Pembrook Burrows. Gilmore had 20 rebounds in Jacksonville’s 106-100 victory Saturday over Kentucky in the Mid-East Regional Final in Columbus, O.

"I am sorry to hear Lanier is hurt," said Jacksonville coach Joe Williams. "We wanted to play the best."
St. Bonaventure hasn’t given up all hope.

"We’ll go against Jacksonville with a positive attitude," said Bona coach Larry Weise. "We will just have to meet the challenge of playing without Bob."

"Don’t be surprised if we win the darned thing," said guard Billy Kalbaugh.

‘Why Lanier?’ Gantt asks

The Bonnie dressing room was like a morgue when the news came from Dr. Emmett Lunceford, the South Carolina orthopedic surgeon, that Buffalo Bob had suffered a tear of the medial collateral ligament and immediate surgery was necessary.

"Why did it have to happen to Bob,” said Matt Gantt, the 6-5 sophomore who had 18 rebounds against Villanova and will be the tallest man in the Bona lineup against Jacksonville.

"Why did it have to happen to me?" Lanier asked as Dr. Lunceford was applying a cast for the air trip back to Buffalo. "It’s a terrible way to finish your career."

"Robert Lanier, Bob’s father, wanted Dr. Lunceford to operate immediately. but Weise contacted Dr. Joseph Godfrey, who performed the surgery in Buffalo.

Lanier also preferred to have the surgery done by Dr. Godfrey in Buffalo.

Dr. Godfrey Waiting

Dr. Lunceford flew the Laniers in his own plane to Atlanta where a flight was held a few minutes for them. His leg in the cast and under sedation, Bob walked up the steps of the airliner and walked off in Buffalo where Mrs. Lanier met them.

Dr. Godfrey was waiting for them at Buffalo General and concurred with Dr. Lunceford’s diagnosis. He set the time for surgery at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

Big Bob’s left leg will be in a cast"“about six weeks," a hospital spokesman said. "There is no reason why Lanier should not be able to return to competitive sports."

Lanier is already the top pick of the American Basketball Association and is expected to be the first named later this month when the National Association holds its draft.

Different Bona Strategy

Lanier was injured when Villanova’s Chris Ford fell against him. It was similar to a clipping block in football. Ford tripped as he moved toward the basket on a rebound play.

Weise used different strategy than in the first game against Villanova. The Brown Indians went with a man-for-man defense all the way this time. Last time they started with a zone.

"They doubled up on Bob and that made it easy for me to get rebounds," Gantt said. "We won the game inside and that’s where we lost it the first time."

Bonnies Take Command

"We couldn’t buy a rebound in the first game, but I got several today standing on the floor," Gantt said.

The Bonnies took command at the start and held a 46-30 halftime lead. They were in front by as many as 27 in the second half.

Lanier broke Tom Stith’s scoring record with his 12th point after 7 minutes, 59 seconds of the first half and finished with 26 points and a career total of 2,067 points. Stith had 2,052.

Gantt will play center and South Buffalo’s Mike Kull will move into the vacant spot in the Bona lineup against Jacksonville.

Bona shot 57.1 percent in the second half and had a 50 percent shooting mark in the game. Villanova was 37.5 in the first half and 40.5 for the game. Bona had a 58-40 rebound advantage.

Lanier, who had 50 points and 33 rebounds in the two games here, was named the Most Valuable Player.

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