Yet somehow Fairfield and Robert Morris had a meaningful basketball game to play: the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
And so my ten year-old son Ian and I found ourselves scouring the student center on Fairfield's campus in search of an ATM after my Visa card was turned away at the ticket booth. The CIT - one of Division I basketball's booby prizes - appeared to be a cash-only operation. When we came back to Alumni Hall the national anthem was playing, and the young woman running ticket sales stood at attention. She took our business only after the anthem finished. This was not the NCAA's.
But no matter. We squeezed ourselves into seats in the corner, two rows up from the ball boy in charge of mopping the floor. The arena was crowded and energetic. When Robert Morris made its first four shots, including a tone-setting dunk by Mike McFadden, the CIT was on the live wire.
Fairfield quickly found their footing when Rakim Sanders rolled through traffic for a right-handed scoop and later made a no-look pass to fellow frontcourt mate Maurice Barrow for a 16-9 Stag advantage.
But after a season of watching the Stags and MAAC basketball, I found myself rooting for Robert Morris. Coach Andrew Toole incorporated ten players into his rotation, only one as tall as 6-8. On offense, the Colonials used high screens to try to turn the corner against the Stags' man-to-man defense. When Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson switched his team into a zone, the Colonials pounded the offensive boards against the larger Stag front line.
Robert Morris had little to show for all this effort. They drew few fouls on the Stags, and missed foul shots when they did.
Fairfield's Desmond Wade made two three-pointers - the first off a Ryan Olander pick - sandwiched around a fast break basket by the high flying but often untapped Colin Nickerson. Fairfield cruised into the half with a 36-25 lead.
We needed directions to find the concession stand. Security guards stood at each of Alumni Hall's entrances, opening the doors to let the spring air in. During a stoppage early in the second half, the young women in our section called out to Sanders. But Sanders was looking the other way, flirting with the dance team.
Fairfield flirted with a blowout. The Stags drew the Colonial defenders out far enough out of their zone to throw ball over the top to Barrow and Nickerson, who lurked on the baseline. Three-quarter court pressure led to a Nickerson basket that gave the Stags a 49-34 lead. At a timeout with ten minutes left, McFadden and Lijah Thompson lurched slowly to the Colonials' huddle.
But Fairfield left the door open. Barrow missed an easy shot; Sanders committed a double-dribble (the first such violation we'd seen all year). And as the game ground down, trading turnovers looked as effective for Fairfield as trading baskets.
Ian thought Robert Morris was still in it. "Just barely," he said.
A put-back by McFadden finally brought Robert Morris within ten points. In my program where I was taking notes, I wrote, "RMU finally at 8!!"
"See?" said Ian.
Sanders drove to the hoop on a rare possession when the Colonials' zone spread itself too thinly. But with less than three minutes left, a three-pointer from Anthony Myers and a dunk by McFadden after the Colonials' full court trap forced a turnover allowed Robert Morris to close the gap further.
Sanders, now fully engaged in the game, answered with a classy post move. But Robert Morris kept coming. Velton Jones was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made two of three from the line, as the official escorted the Fairfield mascot, Lucas, from the spot where he was posing under the basket.
The Colonials forced another turnover with the full court trap. McFadden picked up the loose ball on the right block, laid it in, was fouled, and made the free throw.
For the final possessions, everyone in our section stood. After the two teams traded baskets, including a Jones hoop from the baseline against the taller Stags that proved he had the coolest hand in the gym, Sanders dribbled through the press and whipped the ball to Olander. As someone behind us yelled, "Dunk it you big lug!" Olander banked the ball home and was fouled. He missed the foul shot, but Sanders out-muscled McFadden for the rebound and then converted two free throws.
6!! Fairfield was safe enough.
The CIT lived on in Connecticut. It looked worth winning.
at FAIRFIELD 67, ROBERT MORRIS 61 03/21/2012
ROBERT MORRIS 26-11 (13-5) -- M. McFadden 8-12 4-10 20; C. Williams 3-8 0-0 8; V. Jones 4-13 4-5 12; R. Johnson 3-7 0-1 6; A. Myers 2-6 0-0 6; L. Jones 0-5 0-2 0; L. Thompson 1-3 3-4 5; L. Bridges 0-0 0-0 0; B. Herman 1-4 1-2 4; K. Armstrong 0-3 0-0 0; S. Sweigart 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-62 12-24 61. FAIRFIELD 22-14 (12-6) -- C. Nickerson 6-8 1-2 14; M. Barrow 7-14 5-8 19; R. Sanders 5-11 4-6 14; D. Wade 2-6 2-2 7; J. Fields 0-3 0-0 0; K. Matthews 2-3 0-0 4; R. Olander 4-6 0-1 9; G. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-51 12-19 67.
Three-point goals: RMU 5-17 (V. Jones 0-2; C. Williams 2-7; A. Myers 2-4; B. Herman 1-2; L. Jones 0-2), FAIR 3-12 (R. Sanders 0-3; D. Wade 1-3; R. Olander 1-2; C. Nickerson 1-1; J. Fields 0-3); Rebounds: RMU 38 (L. Jones 8), FAIR 29 (R. Sanders 10); Assists: RMU 11 (V. Jones 5), FAIR 16 (D. Wade 6); Total Fouls -- RMU 17, FAIR 17; Fouled Out: RMU-R. Johnson; FAIR-None.