When St. Bonaventure takes the court against Florida State today in Nashville, it will be 12 years ago today -- March 16, 2000 -- that the Bonnies last played a game in the NCAA Tournament. Jerry Sullivan and I, along with photographer Jim McCoy, were there for The News at the Cleveland State Convocation Center. I covered the Big 4 from 1992-2007 and that's one afternoon I will never forget.
The 12th-seeded Bonnies played the first game of the entire tournament, a 12:25 start on Thursday afternoon, and lost a double-overtime classic to fifth-seeded Kentucky, 85-80.
There are so many images still fresh from that game and they start with the noise from the crowd, the non-stop "Let's Go Bonas" chants that went for three hours and how all 13,000 in the building, save for a couple of sections of Kentucky blue, were rooting for the Bonnies in the second half and overtimes. And yes, former president Robert Wickenheiser was right there among the students less than three years before he brought the program down.
My friend and a rabid Bona alum, Yahoo! national NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski, was then a columnist for the Bergen Record of New Jersey. He couldn't take the drama. For the final minutes, he was up in the stands with the fans.
I remember Tim Winn (left) dominating Kentucky point guard Saul Smith, son of coach Tubby Smith. I remember a ridiculous slapping-the-backboard technical on Caswell Cyrus. A three-pointer released right in front of me by freshman Patricio Prato and the way he turned and exhorted the crowd after the Bonnies took their first lead with eight minutes left. And for the first time, late in the game, I remember thinking "they might win" when J.R. Bremer took off on a breakaway and dunked as the crowd went wild, jumping up and down in front of their seats.
The Bonnies were up three in the final seconds but Cyrus didn't get through a screen and Tayshaun Prince, still in the NBA with the Pistons 12 years later, drained a tying three-pointer from the right of the key with 7.1 seconds left. To this day, former Olean Times Herald beat writer Brian Moritz and I still bemoan that play. Just like Dick Vitale says, foul him! Don't let him get a tying three off! I call it FTP as in "Foul Tayshaun Prince". I watch a game a team messes up and #foultayshaunprince becomes a Twitter handle.
The game went to OT and the Bonnies dramatically tied it again when David Messiah Capers hit three free throws with 0.4 seconds left (right), after a season where he had only hit 55 percent at the line. Kentucky called two timeouts to freeze him and CBS took two commercials but Capers was unfazed. Winn spent the shots about 20 feet to my left chatting and laughing with CBS analyst Sam Bowie. The whole thing was amazing for everybody there.
Winn had a chance to force a third OT but missed a potential tying trey with three seconds. Kentucky made a free throw and Bona coach Jim Baron pulled Winn, Capers and Cyrus from their final game. And the whole building erupted in applause -- including the Kentucky fans.
"It was a heckuva way to start the NCAA Tournament," Baron said. "We were a bucket away."
Winn held court with the Buffalo media in the locker room after the game when somebody -- I think it was Sully -- asked him if he realized how far he had come from those great days at LaSalle High in Niagara Falls, to help take the program to be in a game like this.
Winn smiled, looked up and said, "Stop that because you're trying to get me all emotional."
We all had a laugh. It seemed like Winn's class had the Bonnies back for good. Little did we know what would happen in the coming years and how long it would take for the school to get back.
Sully has plenty of memories of that day as well, and you can read them and column from that day on Tim Winn by going here.
Kudos to the Bona men, and the women. Here's hoping what happens today in Nashville and Sunday in Tallahassee will have people talking about it for a long time. Just like that day in Cleveland.
James P. McCoy's file photos are all clickable for bigger views: Bona's Peter Van Paassen and Caswell Cyrus with Kentucky's Jamaal Magloire (top), Tim Winn going for a layup (I'm at press row by the monitor next to the official's right arm), and David Messiah Capers keeping the game going at the line (right).