2012 Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship

St. Bonaventure’s Youssou Ndoye (left) hugs Andrew Nicholson after the Bonnies defeated Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game in March of 2012.

It came to a head on a mild night in St. Louis, inside a spectacularly spirited Chaifetz Arena, on Feb. 1, 2012.

Andrew Nicholson, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s senior standout, picked up two fouls in the first 57 seconds. He was whistled for his third and fourth fouls on the same sequence early in the second half, the latter on a technical — the singular moment in which Nicholson, personally, had reached his boiling point.

And when it was over, the 6-foot-9 forward had played just 10 minutes, taken one shot and scored two points.

For Nicholson, an increasingly concerning trend had just become a categorical crime. This marked the fourth-straight game in which he played 26 minutes or fewer due to foul trouble and the third-straight in which he fouled out.

For the Bonnies, it was the low point in a season that carried the first real expectations in a decade. With Nicholson watching from the sideline, Bona was walloped, 86-62, the first in consecutive one-sided road losses that dropped it to a disappointing 12-9 on the year. For this team, destined to become the first in program history to win an Atlantic 10 championship, however, it was also the turning point.

Perhaps it was a plea from Bona to the league to allow its bellcow, the eventual A-10 Player of the Year, to actually … play. Maybe it was a mandate from commissioner Bernadatte McGlade to officials: ‘Stop singling out Nicholson. He’s the face of the conference, a player we want to showcase. We can’t do that if he’s sitting on the bench.’

Possibly, it was an adjustment in the way No. 44, the most talented A-10 player of the decade, played.

WHATEVER IT was, something changed.

And from that week on, Nicholson was unleashed, allowing him to cement his place not only as Bona savior and transcendent star on an NCAA Tournament team, but also as a first round NBA draft pick.

The Mississaugua native logged at least 32 minutes in 11 of the final 12 games and, without playing in fear of a quick whistle, he was his dominant self, averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds and nearly three blocks, including a 20/20 game against Duquesne, a 32-point night against Saint Josephs and the coup de grace, a 26-point, 14-rebound, eight-block masterpiece on Xavier in the 2012 A-10 championship.

As a result, Bona reached those lofty projections, winning five of its next six games to secure a double bye at the A-10 Tournament, ripping off three wins in three days in Atlantic City and making the program’s first trip to the Big Dance since 2000.

And that brings us to the point of this column.

IN ANY other year, this weekend — and Father’s Day, in particular — would have been about baseball. Yesterday, the World Series favorite Yankees should have been hosting division rival Baltimore; the Pirates were scheduled to play the defending champion Nationals; locally, the Olean Oilers would have been in Dansville.

Instead, it was yet another day without any of the four major sports — the 102nd since everything came to a halt on that infamous March 11 night — another lost 24-hour time period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And so, as we’ve had to do for the last three-plus months, we were made to turn our attention elsewhere. And given that I’m no fan of NASCAR and wasn’t particularly interested in the PGA’s RBC Heritage, I turned to an interesting Bona production entitled “Bonnies Rewind: 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship.”

The video, created by the school’s athletic department, was originally published last month. In it, three key figures from that team — coach Mark Schmidt and players Demitrius Conger and Nicholson — narrate that game over Zoom as the CBS broadcast of the iconic triumph plays in its entirety.

All three share their memories and insight from that day, from the opening tip, to Nicholson’s decimation of Xavier big man Kenny Frease, to Charlon Kloof dribbling out the final few seconds, when Bona and its fans were equal parts astounded and ecstatic by the reality of what was happening. The replay itself serves as a reminder: This team, at its defensive peak and with Nicholson on another level, was very good.

IT ALSO, Dave Moore recently noted, might have been slightly underappreciated.

As the former Bona assistant coach recently, and rightfully, submitted during a Twitter-based conversation about the best teams in program history: That squad suffered season-ending injuries to two starters early in the season (to Marquise Simmons and Michael Davenport). As a result — and what might have become lost in Nicholson’s presence — five of its top eight players were first-year guys, including its entire backcourt, save Matthew Wright, who was only a sophomore.

And though it took them some time — and for Nicholson to finally (mysteriously) be set free — the 2011-12 Bonnies eventually DID gel, reaching those lofty preseason projections (and becoming a team that featured the No. 19 pick in the draft and at least eight other pros) in the process.

“That team that played Florida St. (in the NCAA Tournament) was the most talented group I coached in 11 years at Bona,” Moore recently tweeted. And the retelling of the high point of that season can be found on the Bona website or by searching “Bonnies Rewind 2012” on YouTube.

(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing group sports editor, can be reached at jbutler@oleantimesherald.com)

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