"I hope you would support who were are, not who we are not." -Coach Norman Dale
The confluence of events that led me to the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I., Wednesday night are vast and would take far too long to detail here.
Ignoring the incidents that even led me here to the Mid-Majority back in the fall, it took school letting out early because of an impending snow storm, the ensuing basketball practice for my team to also get pushed forward, and then for me to get my work done for my secondary job by 4 p.m.
Idle nights and I are not generally mutually compatible in the best of times, and with the race to 800 games coming down to a fantastic finish (someone call Gus Johnson), I frantically searched for some way to help the team. The best option was a Patriot League quarterfinal in Worcester, Mass. between Holy Cross and Lafayette, but that snow storm was coming from the north, my car is awful in bad weather, and someone has already signed up for that game.
I actually thought for a brief instance about heading to the Patriot League quarterfinal at Lehigh, three hours away and away from the storm, but even for a crazy like me that would have been a George Washington or Tappan Zee Bridge too far.
One last check of the slate saw what I thought was a mistake: Fordham at Rhode Island. For whatever reason, the Atlantic 10/14 tends to be off my radar when it comes to the Red Line, maybe because of my thoughts about UMass or the fact that the conference actually has success in the tournament every once in a while.
My U.S. geography is not the greatest, but I know Connecticut borders Rhode Island, and a quick check showed it was less than two hours from New Haven to Kingston. The weather looked slightly worse, but not as bad as going due north to Worcester.
The weather did deteriorate about the time Connecticut turned into Rhode Island, and I got off the highway to the nine miles of dirt road that leads to URI. Well, it seemed like a dirt road under the conditions, but out of the darkness sprung a glittering campus and an even more glittering Ryan Center.
(A banner high in the arena that reads "Stars of the Ryan Center" had these names, although not all next to each other: Kanye West, Jim Courier, Barney the Purple Dinosaur, and President Bill Clinton amused me. How's that for a diverse group?)
The original plan was to have a laugh at Rhode Island and Fordham. The two teams were a combined 6-22 in the Atlantic 10/14 coming in, and neither team was going to the league tournament, despite the fact 12 of the 14 teams qualified. Yes, these were the bottom of the barrel.
And, let's be honest, it wasn't a well-played game. Luckily for Rhode Island (sportswriter's nightmare: both teams are nicknamed Rams), Fordham couldn't put the ball in the ocean, lake, or any other large body of water, shooting a whopping 79 times (with only six turnovers) against a fairly bad defensive team, but making only 25.
Rhode Island, in the midst of a dreadful season that will end Saturday at UMass, was only 6-23 coming in, but raced to a 16-2 lead and pretty much coasted to a 78-58 rout on Senior Night for Orion Outerbridge and former walk-on Anthony Mailhot.
Mailhot would be the story on the court, going 8-of-11 from the field and scoring 21 points to go with eight rebounds (Outerbridge added a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds). It was the second straight win for Rhody, who posted an impressive win over St. Louis last weekend.
I could talk about Fordham's ineptness and poke fun at Tom Pecora for picking up a technical foul at halftime by kicking the ball into the crowd out of frustration, but on a snowy night and a game that meant absolutely nothing, this was about the diehards.
Ironically, the announced crowd at this Fordham game was about the same as the one when I saw them last at Rose Hill (3,200), in a sold-out rocking old-school gym. The Ryan Center is a beautiful facility that opened in 2002, but the atmosphere was quite subdued for obvious reasons Wednesday night.
It's easy, though, to make fun of who wasn't there, but what struck me instead was who was there. I made the tactical mistake (unintentional) of wearing my New York Giants jacket across state lines, so I got some pretty dirty looks.
But the people that braved the weather to see a 6-23 team dead last in their conference on a hideous traveling night (and Kingston is not exactly Manhattan, 99 percent of the non-students there surely had to drive), they deserve our praise.
They are the diehards. They are the Mid-Majority.
My section gave a loud standing ovation for the two seniors and stayed with their squad from beginning to end. The band had energy and the student section still had their giant flags of Serbia (for Nikola Malesevic) and Georgia (Levan Shengelia).
Shengelia (from Tbilisi, by the way, not Atlanta) was a personal favorite of the guys around me, and the 6-foot-9 sophomore is a physical specimen, but doesn't have too much on the way of offensive skills. But he works extremely hard -- that's why the fans like him -- and managed two points and three rebounds in eight minutes.
Fordham made a mini-run using a 1-3-1 zone in the second half, but by the last media timeout, it was garbage time and the walk-ons had graced the floor. The only drama came at the end when the "We want tacos" chant started. Although subsequent research has been inconclusive, some of the crowd, at least, thought that URI needed to get to 80 to get everyone in the crowd a free taco.
A Fordham free throw made it 78-58 and the crowd urged the walk-ons to shoot, but veteran coach Jim Baron (whose son started and had eight points and seven assists) showed good sportsmanship and told his charges to hold the ball.
Alas, anyone who came out on a night like this deserved a free taco, and the crowd rejoiced as evidently the URI brass decided that 78 was enough in the final game of a losing season.
As I walked back out into the slush, I was behind two couples, who were chatting about the season coming to end, as it will for all of us soon.
"So that's that, huh? Another season gone."
"They sure played well tonight. They'll be better next year."
"Yea, I still have fun coming to the games. See you next season?"
"You bet. Already looking forward to it."
at RHODE ISLAND 78, FORDHAM 58 02/29/2012
FORDHAM 10-18 (3-12) -- B. Frazier 9-24 0-2 20; C. Gaston 3-11 3-6 9; K. Bristol 4-7 0-0 8; D. McMillan 5-12 0-0 10; B. Smith 2-8 0-0 6; A. Estwick 0-5 0-0 0; R. Canty 1-2 0-0 2; L. Samuell 0-1 0-0 0; M. Dominique 0-4 0-0 0; D. Gaitley 0-0 0-0 0; R. Hage 0-1 0-0 0; K. Robinson 0-0 0-0 0; L. Zivkovic 1-4 1-2 3. Totals 25-79 4-10 58. RHODE ISLAND 7-23 (4-11) -- M. Powell 3-7 4-4 11; O. Outerbridge 5-13 4-7 15; B. Baron 2-8 4-5 8; J. Holton 2-11 1-1 5; A. Malhoit 8-11 2-2 21; D. McKoy 4-6 0-0 8; L. Shengelia 1-2 0-2 2; T. Buchanan 0-2 0-0 0; N. Malesevic 1-2 2-2 4; R. Harris 1-1 2-4 4; A. Kemp 0-0 0-0 0; B. Vedder 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-63 19-27 78.
Three-point goals: FORD 4-23 (A. Estwick 0-3; B. Frazier 2-11; L. Samuell 0-1; D. McMillan 0-1; B. Smith 2-6; L. Zivkovic 0-1), URI 5-19 (O. Outerbridge 1-3; N. Malesevic 0-1; A. Malhoit 3-4; B. Baron 0-4; T. Buchanan 0-1; J. Holton 0-1; M. Powell 1-5); Rebounds: FORD 34 (K. Bristol 9), URI 58 (O. Outerbridge 13); Assists: FORD 11 (B. Frazier 4), URI 14 (B. Baron 7); Total Fouls -- FORD 18, URI 13; Fouled Out: FORD-None; URI-None.