Game 085: (E4) Fordham 65, (W5) Duquesne 53Atlantic 10 First Round
Wednesday, March 9, 2005
U.S. Bank Arena - Cincinnati, OH
Life is different here on First Round Day. While the quarterfinals and semis match up teams with 20 or 25 wins, the opening games usually feature squads who willed their ways to 10 or 11. Aside from the occasional Wagner
, everyone knows that virtually none of the competing teams will win the tournament... so expectations, aspirations and attendance figures aren't the same.
In the Atlantic 10, the top two teams in both divisions got straight to the quarterfinals, and the other eight face off on day one. For many of the schools who play-in with low seeds, there's nothing like a first-round win to raise spirits. Down where the brackets are thick and tangled, a victory can erase memories of a frustrating regular season. A simple "W" here will make the summer more bearable, save a coach's job for another year, provide material for sports information directors penning the outlook column in next season's media guide. Did we mention we went a round in at the tourney last year? Duquesne
was in this position a year ago - instead of licking their wounds from a disappointing campaign where they finished behind LaSalle
in the Atlantic 10's West division, the Dukes surprised the Massachusetts Minutemen in the evening session of the 2004 conference tournament by a 79-76 score. Even though they'd go out to Dayton
the next day, Duquesne basketball was back
with a capital (and Old English) D. The Flyers and the Richmond
Spiders and the eventual Elite Eighters Xavier
Muskies would be down due to graduations, and LaSalle was scandalized - so maybe, just maybe, they could parlay their single-game success into a dramatic ascent in the standings. Pittsburgh scribes began treating the Dukes seriously, for the first time in what seemed to be centuries.
But instead, the Iron City's A-10 representative came out of the gate aimless and unfocused. It didn't seem possible at the time, but they were worse than before: a 12-17 record and a 168 RPI rating in 2003-04 led into a 2004-05 that saw them go a miserable eight and 22. The same local columnists who wrote of great aspirations wondered openly about a move to the Patriot League
So in the opening round of the 2005 tourney, they met another would-be upstart team, the Rams of Fordham
. Fordham, who actually was
in the Patriot League once, ended last season's 6-22 campaign with a quick 67-47 blowout loss to Richmond in the other late-session nightcap at Dayton, a game which began 25 minutes after Duquesne's happy win. It was the Rams' ninth consecutive loss on the A-10's First Round Day.
Though Duquesne spoiled the Fordham's Senior Night a week earlier, this year's Rams enjoyed the success the Dukes had aspired to. Six wins turned into 12, and a sixth-place finish became a four-seed. There was no great secret to the turnaround - an energetic and charismatic coach named Dereck Whittenburg was beginning to work his magic, plumbing out rough gems from New York's tough high school leagues, players like St. John's Prep product Bryant Dunston, a 6'8" stud post presence and floor-runner.
And so these two teams, one rising and one falling, met in this year's first round. Another Whittenburg late-signing, a hard-balling freshman guard from the Motor City's nationally-ranked Detroit Renaissance team named Marcus Stout, led the way with 31 points. Dunston scored in double figures too, netting 10 and grabbing five boards. An invigorated Ram perimiter defense dismantled the weapon that destroyed UMass a year earlier: the Dukes shot 0-for-21 from beyond the arc. When it was all over, the Rams had won their first A-10 tournament game in its decade-long stint in the league.
Though Fordham is still not ready to go two
rounds in quite yet, New York City will take notice now - more reporters will show up to games, recruiting will be even easier, and A-10 fans will have to find different punchlines. With a tourney win, the Rams are officially a program on the way up, just like Duquesne seemed to be last season. But the difference is that Duquesne was all talk; Fordham is much more than that. They might not even have to play on First Round Day next year.Photo Gallery (Games 083/084/085/086)