March Moment: The Garden in ’71

Posted by jstevrtc on March 24th, 2010

Few college basketball fans are born with their love for the game. For most aficionados, at some point on the way from infancy to college hoops fan, there is a moment. A single play, shot, player, game, or event at which point they say to themselves, “I will always have this in my life.” Because it is the time of the season that carries the most gravitas, these things often happen in March. We asked some of our friends and correspondents: what was the thing that turned you into a lifelong college basketball fan? What was your…March Moment? We’ll be posting some of their answers for the rest of the month.

In this edition, RTC correspondent Ray Floriani remembers a New York City night in 1971 that altered his perception of winning and losing, how he was affected by both, and how it all cemented his love for our game:

NEW YORK CITY – The intensity, excitement and general myraid of emotions packed into that March evening will probably never be duplicated. It was the ultimate heartbreaker. At the same time, this was the one. The game and experience that certifiably had yours truly hooked on basketball, notably college basketball, as the favorite sport. One that transformed a casual observer into a devout follower.

Mention “the Georgia Tech game in the NIT” and any St. Bonaventure fan who can remember gas being under a buck a gallon will recall the year (1971) , the date (March 25), the circumstance and how it played out.  A little background…

The 1970-71 season was my freshman year at St. Bonaventure. The previous March the Bonnies made it to the Final Four and if Bob Lanier hadn’t been injured late in the East Regional final against Villanova, who knows? UCLA’s national championship run might have been interrupted.

Larry Weise, St. Bonaventure coach from 1961-73

The team lost Lanier and a top notch lead guard in Billy Kalbaugh. There was optimism though as the returnees had experienced winning and approached the season with a positive mindset. Among the veterans returning for coach Larry Weise were Greg Gary, Matt Gantt, Dale Tepas, and Paul Hoffman. Gantt, at 6-5, was the big man.  An incredible leaper, Gantt was the prototype “frequent flyer” who could make life miserable for opponents five (or more) inches taller. Sophomore Carl Jackson was up from the freshman team (they had them back then). Overall, there was talent.

I had the good fortune to get into the program as one of the team managers.  It was a job I did four years in high school and would do four years at Bonaventure. The season went extremely well with the Bonnies, ranked high as 11th at one point, finishing 18-5.  Back then 25 teams made the NCAA tournament and with the East basically a group of independents, as Bonaventure was, you needed a great record to get in.  The Bonnies accepted an NIT bid. Again, in that day it was a 16 team field with all games contested at Madison Square Garden.

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