During the 31 days of March, we feature some of the greatest moments from the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in the history of ASN's family of schools. Today: Bob Lanier and St. Bonaventure.
Bob Lanier towers above the greatest players in St. Bonaventure's storied basketball history.
The Bonnies won 99 consecutive home games from 1957-61, the second-longest streak in college basketball history. In 1977, they won the National Invitation Tournament.
But the sports moments judged the greatest in school history came in 1970, when Lanier led the Bonnies to the Final Four. St. Bonaventure remains the smallest university by enrollment to advance that far in the NCAA Tournament.
Lanier led the team to a 65-12 mark in his three seasons. One of the size 22 Converse All-Star sneakers that Lanier wore at the tournament resides in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 1969-70, the Los Angeles Times recounted in 1985, "They went 22-1 in the regular season and then captured the East Regional championship behind a group of role players and Coach Larry Weise's intelligent game plan: Get the ball to Lanier."
Lanier, who scored a school-record 51 points against Seton Hall in February 1969, averaged 29 points and 16 rebounds per game the following season while guiding the Bonnies to a No. 1 national ranking.
But St. Bonaventure's run to the Final Four was not a singular achievement.
"It doesn't happen by circumstance," Dale Tepas, a guard on the 1970 team, said in 2009. "It happens because of who we were when we played together, and the bond we had. We are fortunate for that to happen because it doesn't for all teams."
After dispatching Davidson (85-72) and N.C. State (80-68), the Bonnies beat Villanova 97-74 in the East Regional final. But the victory also cost them Lanier.
While driving the lane, he collided with Villanova's Chris Ford and tore a knee ligament. That necessitated the first of eight knee operations that eventually made pain and Lanier constant companions.
"Bob probably wasn't as good a total player as he could have been because of the knee injury," former New York Knicks great Willis Reed said in 1985.
Still, Reed acknowledged, "He probably was one of the best all-around big men ever to play the game of basketball."
But it ended St. Bonaventure's hopes for a national championship. It also deprived the nation of seeing Lanier against Jacksonville's Artis Gilmore go head-to-head in the Final Four. Gilmore led the Dolphins to the championship game with a 91-83 victory in the national semifinals despite 16 points from Matt Gantt and 13 rebounds from Greg Gary.
JU went on to lose to UCLA in the championship game, 80-69.
Lanier went on to a 14-year Hall of Fame career in the NBA, but he never won a championship.
In 2007, St. Bonaventure dedicated its basketball court to Lanier.
"I think I appreciate it even more than my (college) teammates," Lanier said in 1985 of the Bonnies' Final Four season, "because I had a basis for comparison.
"It wasn't the money, or who got the 'numbers' like in the NBA. We weren't any big stars. It was a couple of guys from Buffalo and a guy from Troy all blending together."