By JOE CERAULO
OLEAN, N.Y. – Even with most students away for spring break, the atmosphere in the Reilly Center Tuesday night was its usual electric self.
Nearly 5,000 fans packed the arena to honor the Bonnies’ three seniors, likely playing their last game in front of the home crowd.
Despite the great sentiment attached to senior night, it was a junior who stole the spotlight early on.
Six minutes into the game, the Bonnies led 17-4. Picking up where he left off after the team’s last game at VCU was junior forward Courtney Stockard, who had accounted for all 17 at that point.
“I just wanted to come out aggressive and set the tone early,” said Stockard. “I knew they were focusing on Jay (Adams) and Matt (Mobley).”
Slowly but surely Davidson inched its way back in, eventually regaining its first lead since the opening bucket when a Kellan Grady and-one put the Wildcats up 33-32 with 3:38 remaining in the first half.
The Wildcats, who trailed by as many as 15 early on, would hold the lead, entering the locker rooms up 41-37 at halftime.
The second half featured a seesaw of lead changes. Davidson’s six-point lead in the opening seconds would be the largest for the rest of regulation as each team’s deadliest three-point shooters took over.
Aldridge shot 8-11 from beyond the arc while finishing with a game-high 45 points. He also led all players with 12 rebounds before fouling out with just under four minutes to play in the third and final overtime period.
Adams, who fouled out in the second overtime, was tied with fellow senior honoree, Matt Mobley for a team-leading five three balls, and just edged out Mobley’s 33 points to lead the team with 34.
While Adams and Aldridge provided most of the second half scoring, arguably the Bonnies’ best surprise of the season is who sent the game to overtime.
Down two, with five seconds left, junior forward LaDarien Griffin cut to the paint and laid the ball in to knot things up at 78 and force at least five more minutes of play.
“Davidson is a great team and (they’re) hard to stop,” said Griffin. “It took everybody to do it, and I’m so proud of this team and the seniors. We wanted them to go out on a good note.”
Griffin would foul out with 1:18 to go in the first overtime period after tallying nine points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes off the bench.
Things looked bright for the Bonnies with ten seconds remaining in the period.
Senior guard Idris Taqqee converted on one of his two free-throw attempts to give his team a 91-89 lead with the clock winding down.
That was when freshman guard Izaiah Brockington fouled a driving Grady with three seconds to go.
Grady hit both free throws, en route to a 39-point performance, and sent the game to double overtime.
After more back-and-forth scoring, something the Bonnies feared most happened with 1:24 remaining. They lost Jaylen Adams to his fifth foul.
The foul sent sophomore guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson to the line where he’d hit a pair, pulling the Wildcats within one.
With 30 seconds left, much like in the first overtime, it was up to Taqqee to head to the free-throw line himself, and all but seal the deal for the Brown and White.
Instead it was déjà vu all over again as Taqqee hit just one, Grady drew a foul in the paint for Davidson, and drilled both free throws to tie the game at 100 and send it to a THIRD overtime.
Triple overtime opened with controversy, as less than 30 seconds in, with a two-point lead, Davidson’s senior forward Oskar Michelsen drew an offensive foul on a driving Stockard, charging him with his fifth and final foul of the contest.
Michelsen’s feet were clearly not set on the play as he swooped in to provide his team with help defense. Nonetheless, the Bonnies were down another 30-point scorer as Stockard and his career-high 31 points were forced to watch the remainder of the game with Adams and Griffin.
“The dude’s a killer,” said Adams of Stockard. “We’ve been hooping together for almost three years now, so we just have extreme confidence in each other and are well are that anyone of us can have a day. He’s that third option that I think we missed last year and would’ve been a scary third or fourth option my sophomore year.”
With 74 points relegated to the bench, the Bonnies would inch back from the charity stripe. Taqqee, Mobley and junior guard Nelson Kaputo all contributed to the comeback, when an unexpected name put the Bonnies up for good.
Forced to enter the game due to the team’s foul trouble, freshman forward Tshiefu Ngalakulondi, who has shown flashes of sharp shooting and excellent athleticism this season, cut into the paint with two minutes left, secured the inbound pass from Kaputo and flushed a two-handed slam to put the Bonnies up 110-108.
Despite playing just four minutes, Ngalakulondi’s lone bucket of the night would secure the lead for St. Bonaventure.
“It was definitely tough sitting there for a while,” said Ngalakulondi. “The coaches always tell me to stay ready every game so that’s the mentality I had. When my name was called I knew it was my chance to step up and do everything I could to help the team win. Especially tonight because it was senior night. We needed to send them off the right way.”
St. Bonaventure closes out its regular season Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m. at St. Louis University. The last time the two squared off, Adams scored a career-best 44 points in the Reilly Center.