“The magnitude of things clearly manifests the wisdom and goodness of the triune God, who by power, presence and essence exists uncircumscribed in all things.”
— Saint Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, 1259
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”
— Rudyard Kipling, If, 1910
What follows is a basketball article and not a theology paper. Yet, anyone who has grown to admire Franciscan theology knows that one of the great explainers of Saint Francis of Assisi is Saint Bonaventure, the 13th-century scholar. Bonaventura penned classics such as The Soul’s Journey into God, The Tree of Life, and The Life of St. Francis. In those and many other works, the saint captured the integrated nature of the Franciscan worldview, one which celebrates the totality of creation as belonging to God, infused with and defined by goodness.
Rudyard Kipling’s If — often quoted during the Wimbledon tennis tournament — represents the best expression of Franciscan theology and Bonaventurian scholarship in sports. In order to appreciate winning, one must make peace with losing. In order to rebound from a crushing defeat, one must calmly accept the risks of life as a sportsman, dust onself off, and serenely move to the next game, intent on getting it right.
That fundamental act of making peace with defeat, so as to not give up on a season, is precisely what Bonaventure’s basketball boys did on Saturday in Dayton, Ohio.
Playing in the University of Dayton Arena — home of the reigning powerhouse in the Atlantic 10 Conference — the Bonnies faced an uphill climb on Saturday. They had just lost at lowly La Salle on Wednesday, a highly damaging blow to their at-large NCAA tournament candidacy. The only way to wipe away a horrible loss is to score a huge win. Prevailing at Dayton — beating Archie Miller and the rest of a team which has won multiple NCAA tournament games in each of the past two seasons — certainly would have qualified as such.
Dreaming the deed and doing the deed, however, are two very different things. It wasn’t enough to aspire; the Bonnies had to withstand everything Dayton had to offer, answering every question the Flyers asked in 40 roller-coaster minutes.
Jaylen Adams and the rest of his teammates were up to the challenge.
Adams scored 31 points and hit a tie-breaking three-point shot in the final 40 seconds of regulation to carry Saint Bonaventure to a 79-72 triumph in Dayton’s lair. If the Bonnies looked ahead to this game against La Salle — thereby paying a price — head coach Mark Schmidt certainly got their attention and made sure they didn’t suffer from a case of post-loss depression on Saturday.
Dayton is going through a rough patch right now. The Flyers lost at Saint Joseph’s earlier in the week. Like many other teams which have played at a high level for much of the season, the long grind is beginning to set in. (West Virginia and Miami could serve as examples from power conferences, William & Mary and Chattanooga from the smaller conferences.)
For Dayton and other teams which have established a generally high standard, players just want to get to March. As a result, the clarity of previous months is dissipating. Opponents (those closer to the bubble) with more to play for are spilling the tank, and the Flyers are wobbling in response. Saint Bonaventure caught Dayton at the right time.
Yet, with that having been said, the Bonnies still had to be resilient enough to parry every last thrust Dayton made. If the recent history of the Atlantic 10 determined the outcome of this game, Saint Bonaventure would have lost. Jaylen Adams had no use for history — after Wednesday’s disaster in Philadelphia against La Salle, he chose to triumph over his surroundings and the Flyers just three days later.
The Bonnies — with an integrated approach which would make their saint-and-scholar namesake proud — washed away the negative effects of a brutal bubble loss. Their king-size win represented the single biggest victory by any bubble team on Saturday. Adrian Wojnarowski and other less-famous fans of Bonaventure basketball know that their team isn’t securely in the field of 68, but they just as surely know that the outlook for Mark Schmidt’s group is profoundly better than it was when the team flew into Ohio before the weekend began.
That’s a story of hope and goodness.
It’s a story Saint Bonaventure can surely appreciate.