By Will Tighe, SBU Class of 2017
Kyle Lofton said it himself, "it's like a cult". Students, alum and fans of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies are hardcore members of it. I could go on about why that's the case, but just know that big wins feel like ecstasy and gut wrenching losses haunt us longer than they should. The players who represent our Bonaventure family to the rest of the world surely feel these emotions at a deeper level.
We experienced one of those losses not long ago at the hands of St. Louis in the A-10 tournament. The Bonnies, who were destined in November to make a run in the post-season, had clawed their way back from the doldrums of January to the bubble of March. Winning a few games in the A-10 tournament would go a long way to enhancing their "tournament resume" and winning the damn thing would take it out of the selection committees hands entirely. The first 38 minutes of St. Bona vs St. Louis was a microcosm of the Bonnie's entire season: They clawed their way back from a mid-game deficit to tie it up with a few minutes left. Eventually, 1.1 seconds were all that remained. The Bonnies were down by one with Senior PG and four-year captain Kyle Lofton stepping up to the free throw line. Kyle, an 81% free throw shooter on the season, was surely going to hit both free throws to give us the lead. Worst case he misses one and the game's still tied.
He missed 'em both.
Bewilderment was washed over with sorrow. It was a gut wrenching loss for all of Bona nation, but for Kyle it had to cut deeper than anything we've experienced as fans. It felt like everything was over in that moment. For Bonaventure's 5 senior starters, their college careers had come to a screeching halt. Kyle humbly admitted to crying in his room after the game.
A few days later, it was announced that the Bonnies would travel to Boulder to face the Colorado Buffalos in the first round of the NIT tournament - surely a step down from the preseason expectation of the NCAA tournament, but nevertheless an opportunity for the five seniors to lace 'em up and go to battle. The NIT doesn't provide the same grandeur as "March Madness" but to these players and this school it honestly doesn't matter. Just going to face a Power 5 opponent is a huge deal for a school like Bonaventure, and another opportunity for Kyle, Dom, Osun, Jaren and Jalen to play a game of competitive basketball together is priceless. Most of all, it gave Kyle a shot at redemption.
The Bonnies defeated the Buffs at about 1:20 AM local time after a hard fought game against their experienced Pac 12 opponent. The Bonnie's season marched onward to Oklahoma where they would face a talented Big 12 foe, eventually defeating them as well. The final team standing between the Bonnies and a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT final four? The Virginia Cavaliers, winners of the 2019 NCAA Championship.
Just like the Bonnies first two games against Colorado and Oklahoma, the first 38 minutes against UVA was everything you'd expect facing a Power 5 opponent in a true road game. It was hard fought and hostile with both teams playing staunch defense. The Bonnies were up early, then UVA came back to take the lead. Things were certainly dire when the Cavaliers were up four points with 30 seconds left. But thanks to an unbelievable 3-pointer from Dom Welch, Bona clawed their way back and had the ball down one point with the game clock expiring.
The Bonnies season and the college careers of Kyle and his teammates rested in the hands of this one possession. Score and play another game alongside your brothers in the Mecca of basketball, miss and everything's over. With seven seconds left, the ball made its way to Kyle's hands. He drove confidently head on towards the four UVA defenders guarding the paint and drew a foul. The magnitude of what was about to happen immediately washed over me. Just 11 days after missing both free throws in the A-10 Tournament, Kyle Lofton approached the line with the Bonnies again down one point. He held in his hands the key to extending their season and unlocking a once in a lifetime moment to play at MSG. I was a nervous wreck, but as I looked back up to the screen I saw Kyle cool, calm and confident as ever.
He made both free throws. The Bonnies won. And there I was shedding a few tears of joy in my room. (Yes, for an NIT game)
It sounds silly, but last night Kyle taught me something invaluable. You're going to miss free throws, but you're also going to have a shot at redemption. You simply need to embrace the opportunity. Don't be scared of failing again, be excited and thankful that you have the chance to prove to yourself that you're capable. You get knocked down, you get back up and rather than avoiding that moment, you seek it out. You drive to the basket, you get fouled, you hit the shots.
Thank you Kyle Lofton for representing Bonaventure in the best way possible and for teaching me a lesson I'll never forget. Last night was incredible. See you in the Garden next week!!