Bonacum following his shot

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Thomas Bonacum scored 48 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in Ramapo's two wins in the NCAA Tournament last weekend.
Photo by Ramapo College athletics

By Sarah Sommer

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The shot has stuck with Thomas Bonacum. The half-court buzzer-beater that gave Ramapo a 67-64 win over New Jersey City in the NJAC championship game last February has been more than the fleeting moment that made the SportsCenter Top 10. It’s been, indirectly, the force propelling Bonacum through this season.

Bonacum was on top of the world after hitting that shot. He was also on the bottom of a pile of fans who stormed the court in celebration. He ended up with a sports hernia and a hematoma in one of his hips, he said, and the injuries limited his effectiveness in the NCAA tournament.

Ramapo lost a heartbreaker in the second round last year, falling to Keene State 92-91 in overtime. Bonacum scored 14 points in that game on 5-of-6 shooting, but he felt that he had not done enough to help his team.

“I let them know after the season, I felt—I still, to this day, I felt like I let them down,” Bonacum said. “The injury wasn’t really under my control, but just that feeling really stuck with me over the offseason, and this year I just wanted to use that as motivation."

Ramapo reached the second round of the NCAA tournament again this season and faced No. 5 Williams—a Final Four team last year—on the Ephs’ home court. Bonacum was ready. The senior forward scored 33 points, tying his career high, to lead Ramapo (23-6) to a 66-62 win last Saturday. The Roadrunners host Franklin & Marshall in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

"I didn’t expect it,” Ramapo head coach Chuck McBreen said of Bonacum’s performance at Williams. “But I knew if we were going to have any chance of beating them, we were going to need him to play at a high level. And obviously on the biggest stage, in the most important game of the year, he picked that night to have his best game of the season."

Bonacum went 11-for-15 from the field, 5-for-7 from three-point range, and 6-for-6 from the foul line. He also added 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block.

“He was locked in,” McBreen said. “We saw the All-American from last year come back out and really not want the season to be over.”

Bonacum received All-America honors last season after averaging 17.2 points per game, shooting 52 percent from the field, and making 41.7 percent of his three-pointers. Before his explosive game at Williams this season, he was scoring 14 points per contest, making 41.1 percent of his field goals, and hitting just 26.9 percent of his three-pointers.

Bonacum’s numbers may have dipped this year due to the injuries from the NJAC title game pile-on, McBreen said. Bonacum began rehab last March and was not cleared to participate in basketball activities until late July.

“As the year went on, I became more and more myself,” Bonacum said. “I feel back to normal now.”

At Williams, Bonacum contributed not only as a scorer and rebounder but also as a calming presence on the floor. “He exudes confidence and keeps everybody on an even keel as opposed to getting uptight—kind of gets them to relax and believe in one another,” McBreen said.

For Bonacum, each game is more than a chance to extend Ramapo’s season. It’s also a chance for redemption.

“I just didn’t want to let anybody down again this year,” he said. “As a leader of the team, I take a lot of responsibility, and I felt like I could have helped them more last year. And that really stuck with me when I was going through therapy, when I was fighting back through injury, that’s what really was my driving factor of coming back strong this year.”