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An early-November victory over lowly Binghamton is hardly the typical formula for a college basketball court storm. But after St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt’s first win on the job in 2007, he was enveloped by euphoric students. He pumped his fists, and was “smothered,” according to first-hand accounts.
To an outsider, the scene would have been a strange one. To Schmidt, though, and to the students who had endured four years of scandal, turmoil and losing, it was something more than a celebration of a standard non-conference win.
“This,” Schmidt said afterward, “is the rebirth.”
It was a prolonged rebirth. Perhaps more prolonged than Schmidt expected or hoped it would be. But on Tuesday night in Dayton, Schmidt’s prophecy rung truer than ever. His Bonnies beat UCLA 65-58 in the First Four, their first NCAA tournament victory since 1970 – 48 years ago.
Forty-eight years ago, Schmidt, a Massachusetts native, was 7 years old. But he’s a student of the game, of his school, and of his program’s history. That’s why he choked up afterward and dedicated Tuesday’s win to the most famous player in St. Bonaventure history, the man after whom the court at the Reilly Center is named: Bob Lanier.
Schmidt did so, unprompted, because St. Bonaventure didn’t just win a tournament game in 1970; it rode Lanier, the soon-to-be No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, to three wins, and to the Final Four.
But Lanier suffered an injury in the regional final against Villanova, and couldn’t play against Jacksonville in the national semifinal. Without him, St. Bonaventure’s magical run ended. It hasn’t been back to the Final Four since. Not even close.
So in the moments after Tuesday’s win, Schmidt reached into his memory, back 48 years, and gave the shoutout.
“This one’s for him,” Schmidt said of Lanier, before later expanding the dedication to the entire 1970 team.
“When I got the job here 11 years ago, we hear the stories about 1970,” Schmidt said. “And everybody talks about if Lanier was healthy, they would have taken on UCLA. This victory is for those guys.”
The Bonnies’ subsequent drought was full of near misses and adversity. They made the tournament as an at-large in 2000 under Jim Baron, and fell to Kentucky in double overtime. The late 90s/early 2000s brought three NIT appearances as well. But the era was abruptly cut short when Baron moved on to Rhode Island and his successor, Jan Van Breda Kolff, was ousted – along with the school’s athletic director and president – by scandal.
The program Schmidt took over in 2007 was still healing. He went 2-14 in his first season. It took him five years to get the remote, 1,800-student Catholic school to the Big Dance, then six years to get back after a heartbreaking first-round loss to Florida State in 2012.
But this time, there would be no more near misses. This time, Schmidt’s stars – Matt Mobley, Jaylen Adams and, most of all, Courtney Stockard – came through in the clutch. This time, the “rebirth” felt complete.
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