Game 045:Duquesne 72, at LaSalle 67 Saturday, January 29, 2005 Tom Gola Arena - Philadelphia, PA
The last time I saw Duquesne play, I was chowing down on a pile of Dayton Arena nachos. About a thousand people were in attendance as the Dukes gutted out a tight upset win over East division four-seed Massachusetts in an Atlantic 10 quarterfinal. But most of the assembled fans were too busy buzzing about the monstrous performance that the other four-seed, Xavier, had turned in against lowly St. Bonaventure earlier that afternoon. A few wondered aloud if the Musketeers could ruin St. Joseph's perfect season the next day. (They did, and rode that momentum all the way to the Elite Eight.)
While that Xavier win was the start of something great, Duquesne was hoping that snapping their nine-game A-10 tourney losing streak would be a step towards bigger and better things as well. They dutifully took their season-ending cyanide against Dayton the following day, but were able to impress outgoing Flyer senior forward Keith Waleskowski. "Earlier in our career, Duquesne was almost one of those teams that was a guaranteed win," he said after the game. "They're not a pushover anymore."
But so far this year, aside from a season-opening shock revenge win at Dayton Arena and a gimmee against the endlessly horrid Bonnies, Duquesne has been that same ol' pushover cupcake, the one with the taste that A-10 opponents have grown to love. Despite heightened expectations from themselves and the Pittsburgh media, the Dukes have stumbled to a 5-14 record and will likely pull another five-seed when the conference reconvenes in Cincinnati next month. The only team keeping them out of the West's cellar is the tragically-starred Explorers of LaSalle.
And when the teams met on a cold and clear Philadelphia afternoon in late January, Duquesne certainly looked like the team they thought they were when the season started. Their backcourt of waterbug Bryant McAllister and Uruguayan stallion Martin Osimani were hitting their outside shots, their defense sets were clicking, and they sprinted out to a big lead against Explorer forward Stephen Smith. Smith tried to assume the form of a five-man multitude, but just couldn't shake the Dukes' triple-team.
The LaSalle band's rendition of Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" at the four-minute radio timeout (38-26, Duquesne) couldn't have been more apt, and I took the opportunity to exit the seating area. I leapt down a flight of stairs, and reached the Tom Gola Arena concession stand before the halftime rush. I hadn't eaten all day, and I needed a pretzel.
As any Philly hoops fan knows, basketball games just look better when you're chewing on a warm, tasty Philly pretzel. Not those round, knotted SuperPretzels that taste vaguely of cigarette smoke, mind you - I'm talking about the long, soft, threaded breadsticks, covered in salt and slathered in spicy mustard. Luckily, at LaSalle you don't have to accept weak imitations. You point to the big wicker basket in the corner, and they'll pull you out a yeasty slice of heaven. That'll be a buck-fifty, please.
And right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the secret to why folks show up at all to see LaSalle games anymore: extremely reasonable concession prices. The unfortunate rape scandal has ruined LaSalle's roster, pride and prestige, but not its fans' appetites. Nothing at the concession stand is over two dollars - that's the price of the nacho plate, and the can of cheese is thrown in at no extra charge. For a buck-fifty, you can have that nice long pretzel, a hefty slice of pepperoni pizza, a juicy hot dog with plenty of condiments available at the table to your left, and/or a huge 32-oz. beverage in a plastic souvenir cup that features schedules for the men's and women's teams. Or you can slap down a buck, and you've got yourself a good-sized serving of hot buttery popcorn.
When the halftime crowd arrived, I stood by with my soft pretzel, marvelled at how the same item costs $2.25 at The Palestra, and watched the concession-stand operation at work. Four lines separated by Tensabarriers, very little waiting. Even though it seemed like everybody in the arena had spilled out into the atrium - hungry fans, spirit squads, and the Explorer mascot alike - I was impressed at how all comers were served in a quick, friendly, efficient manner.
The second half began, and LaSalle began eating into the lead. Their hunger was evident - they dove after every loose ball and fought to the rim on every possession. Watching the Explorers' craven desire, their craving for that win, made me incredibly thirsty. Or maybe it was that salty pretzel.
"Why are the prices so good?" I asked the young cashier in my best investigative-reporter voice. "I've been to over 75 different college arenas, and LaSalle has got to have the most complete menu for the best prices around."
He took my money and gave me a handful of change and a 32-oz. souvenir cup of Diet Coke, and was about as impressed with my travels as are the residents of my fishtank at home. "I dunno," he said. "Maybe it's 'cause we have smaller crowds?"
I didn't want to spend time attacking the logical and economic fallacies in that statement, but I figured he was just taken by surprise by my questioning (or was simply an English major). I went back to my seat and spent the late stages of the game enjoying my beverage. The game was close and headed down to the wire - there were five minutes remaining, and LaSalle had cut the lead to just one at 60-59.
But much like as with their previous contest against Richmond, the Explorers faltered down the stretch. With 21 seconds to go, Stephen Smith was called for a charge as he drove and dunked what would have been the go-ahead basket. LaSalle was immediately forced into foul mode, and the Dukes sank enough of them to pull safely away from their basement-dwelling counterparts. Duquesne would not be pushed over on this day, nor munched on.
The frustration was evident as the LaSalle faithful exited the arena. "I have no idea why I come to these damn games anymore," one older fan muttered to another, in the stairwell that leads down to the level of Philadelphia's 20th Street. "They just make me agitated."