With all of the local excitement over the NCAA basketball tournament coming to Buffalo this week I wanted to take a look back at a time when both St. Bonaventure and Niagara actually played and played well in the elite postseason event. It was 44 years ago that the Bonnies with Bob Lanier and Niagara with Calvin Murphy were selected to play in the then 25 team tournament. Yes, only 25 teams earned the right to play for the National Championship as opposed to today’s 68 team field.

Believe it or not, St. Bonaventure finished 3rd in the final AP and Coaches poll that season and Niagara 17th. It was a very special season as both All Americans carried their teams to heights that neither institution has seen since.

Niagara had gotten out to a quick start that season winning their first seven games which included a win over the then 6th ranked Tennessee Vols in the Oklahoma City Classic on a last second shot by Murphy. The Purple Eagles climbed as high as 12 in the polls and finished with a 22-7 record before upsetting 7th ranked Penn in the first round of the NCAA’s. The Purple Eagles season ended when they fell in the sweet sixteen to Villanova in the Eastern Regional.

St. Bonaventure had an even better season climbing as high as #3 in the regular season rankings on the strong play of 6′ 11″ Bob Lanier. The Bonnies finished the regular season with a 25-3 record and easily defeated Davidson and North Carolina State to advance to the Eastern Regional finals against Villanova.

Bonaventure crushed ‘Nova’ 97-74 in that contest, but lost Lanier for the remainder of the tournament with a serious knee injury. St. Bonaventure went on to the Final Four without their All American but still played inspired basketball against Jacksonville and their two 7′ “twin-towers” Artis Gilmore and Pembroke Burrows. The Bonnies, without a starter over 6′ 5″, gave Jacksonville a scare before dropping a 91-83 decision in the National semi-final game. Most observers of that season felt Bonaventure had a legitimate shot at the National title if Lanier had not gone down.

That season was captured in a documentary entitled “Unfinished Dreams” produced by Rigas Entertainment in 1995.

So as the region gets prepared for some great basketball by out-of-town teams at the First Niagara Center I’ll still reflect back to a time when the headlines were being made by two of the teams who played in our own backyard.

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