The A-10 in A.C.
Observations from the stands at the Atlantic-10 Tourney
Posted: Friday March 9, 2007 2:22PM; Updated: Friday March 9, 2007 2:31PM
This weekend thousands will flock to New York City, Tampa Bay, and Oklahoma City to see the Big East, Big ACC, and Big 12 crown their champions. While some "experts" see these as the most important conference tournaments in the nation, what I see are a bunch of games in which the losers still get to move on to the NCAA tournament. And so, in search of the passion and excitement that comes from a tournament from which only the winner will move on, I headed to Atlantic City, where on Wednesday, Day One of the Atlantic 10 tournament, eight teams battled to keep their NCAA tournament dreams alive.
9:43 a.m. --- When you think of Atlantic City in March there are a few things that come to mind. A lively boardwalk, excited tourists, a beautiful beach...and of course, heavy snowfall. Somehow the A-10 managed to schedule the most important event of the year on the one day in March that it's freezing in Atlantic City. This could be the worst thing to happen to the conference since the late great Yinka Dare left early for the NBA.
10:53 a.m. --- I get my first look at historic Boardwalk Hall. Sure, it hasn't hosted 25 consecutive Big East tournaments like Madison Square Garden -- in fact it's never even hosted the A-10 tournament -- but it has its share of history. The hall was host to the 1964 Democratic Convention that nominated LBJ, and it was the site of a widely bootlegged Rolling Stones concert and two Wrestlemanias in the 1980's. That's what I call history.
DAYTON VS. CHARLOTTE
12:03 p.m. --- And we're underway with our first game: Dayton vs. Charlotte. Wait...no we're not. A whistle stops play just after the opening tip-off because the clock isn't running. An inauspicious start to the tournament. There's a sparse crowd for this game, which features two schools that are a combined 1,200 miles from the Jersey shore. Maybe the Charlotte student bus is stuck in the snow.
12:40 p.m. --- The 49ers jump out to a 27--20 lead thanks to four three pointers from Leemire Goldwire, the cousin of 4-time NBA 12th man of the year Anthony Goldwire. Early on the bands for both schools deserve a lot of credit for single-handedly recreating an entire student section. If the Grizzlies or Devil Rays ever want to give themselves home field advantage, they should just create a band.
1:00 p.m. --- The good news for Charlotte is that it takes a 35-28 halftime lead. The bad news for Charlotte is that an extremely pro-Dayton crowd has started to trickle in. The really bad news for Charlotte is that the next biggest contingent after the Dayton fans are Xavier fans, who have come to see who will take on their team tomorrow. The MVP of the first half has undoubtedly been the Dayton band, which put on an outstanding performance featuring wardrobe changes and a pair of tubas with flashing lights. The band went from orange basketball hats to old time pilot goggle hats, and then closed the half with hats that had airplanes on top of them.
FORDHAM VS. RICHMOND
2:04 p.m. --- Dayton star Brian Roberts takes over in the second half, scoring 17 of his game high 24 as the Flyers win 81--63. The Dayton band also has a strong finish. It comes out with a timely "Take his whistle" chant after a crucial bad call, and they astutely close the gam
2:50 p.m. --- The first semblance of a student section is in the house: a rowdy group of Fordham fans. They quickly win me over with a straight-to-the point "Miss! Miss! Miss!" chant when Richmond is at the free throw line. The Fordham fans also give the towel girls some much-needed attention by chanting "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!" when they come out to wipe the floor. The Rams can't solve Richmond's 2-3 zone and they fall behind 15--10.
3:31 p.m. --- At halftime I get a chance to talk with the Fordham fans, who modestly call themselves the best fans in the A-10. They tell me the story of their short-lived custom of throwing toy babies in the air at home games. It began earlier in the season when an alum held up his baby to distract an opposing player. The students liked what they saw and began bring toy babies to the games. At one point in the season as many as 20 toy babies were being thrown in the air, but eventually one baby landed on the court. A technical foul was nearly called and the students had to retire the babies. Fordham could use the babies' help today as they come out for the second half with a slim 31--28 lead.
4:32 p.m. --- Down by four with two minutes left, Richmond scores four straight to tie the game. Richmond guard Peter Thomas then scores and draws a foul to give the Spiders the lead with 44 seconds left. However, Thomas misses the free throw and Marcus Stout converts an old-fashioned three-point play for Fordham. After two last-gasp shots from Richmond miss the mark, Fordham escapes with a 63--61 victory.
4:43 p.m. --- Richmond's postgame media session is somber. Coach Chris Mooney no longer looks angry -- instead he looks emotionally exhausted. You can see the pain of the season-ending loss in his eyes. Answers are coming out of his mouth, but you can tell that in his mind he doesn't see reporters and microphones, he sees the last 15 seconds of the game being replayed continuously. The players can't keep their heads up without the help of their hands, and their glances invariably return downward.