Virginia Tech 74, Fordham 63
A-10 Tournament First Round
Wednesday, March 3, 1999

Fordham continues to be a salve for what pains the Hokies, particularly when it's A-10 tournament time.

The Hokies are a team that historically doesn't do well in its conference tournaments, not since they unexpectedly stormed to the 1979 Metro Conference Tournament championship.   Since then, the Hokies have rarely made it beyond the second round, and if they did, they didn't win the championship, partly because Tech spent many years in the Metro, which had a nasty habit of scheduling its tournament on the home floor of its power teams, Louisville and Memphis State.  Tech's 1994-95 NIT championship team was the last Tech team to play in a Metro Conference tournament, and they bowed out in their first game, falling to Southern Mississippi in (imagine this) Louisville.

The Atlantic 10 has been no different for Tech.  Even Tech's great 1995-1996 NCAA team, which finished the regular season 22-4, gacked in its first game in its first A-10 tournament, falling to Rhode Island, 77-71 in Philadelphia.

The next year, the Hokies won their first round game in the A-10 tourney, over Fordham, and the following year (last year), the Hokies once again bowed out in the first round.

So, you can imagine that Tech was happy to see Fordham again, and the Hokies played like it.  Going into this one, Fordham had their leading scorer, Bevon Robin, at a hundred percent, in contrast to Tech's first game against the Rams, when Robin was suffering from the flu.

It didn't seem to make much difference.  This game was decided in a crucial stretch in the first half that saw the Hokies score 11 points in a row, turning a 17-17 tie into a 28-17 advantage.  And although the two teams played evenly other than that stretch, I never got the feeling that the Hokies were in danger of losing.  Every time Fordham seemed poised to make a run, the Hokies would hit a three-pointer or a driving layup to twist the knife a little deeper.

But back to the crucial stretch.  Here's how I remember it:  the Hokies broke a 17-17 tie with a bucket, and shortly after that, a Fordham player - Griffin - was whistled for a technical foul.  If I remember the sequence correctly, the technical occurred when Griffin argued a foul call against him.  Rolan Roberts went to the line to shoot free throws on the foul, Eddie Lucas shot the technical free throws, and then Tech got the ball back.

Rolan missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Lucas canned both technical free throws, and the Hokies then hit a jumper to stretch the 19-17 lead to 23-17.  Tech would add on five more points, making it 28-17 before Fordham would score again.

It could have been much worse for the Rams, but Rolan was having a bad foul shooting relapse and missed a number of free throws during this stretch, including the front end of two one-and-ones.  After going 9-10 in the last game against Duquesne, Rolan fell back to old habits, making just 9 of 19 in this game.   His percentage from the field in this game (5-10, or 50%) was better than his free throw percentage.

From that point on, Tech would stretch the lead out to 16 at one point (51-35), and although Fordham would close the gap to 59-50, Tech would add on five straight from there and cruise to the victory.

At one point in the game, Bill Roth made the statement, "If you're wondering why the Hokies won six of their last nine games, the reason is simple:  It's Dennis Mims."  And indeed, Dennis turned in a great first half, with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Russ Wheeler once again struggled in this game, committing four fouls in just 20 minutes, so he spent significant time on the bench, and when he did, Dennis got some good minutes (24 of them), particularly in the first half.  It's probably beyond time for Bobby Hussey to think about starting Dennis over Russ, because the Hokies seem to have extra oomph when Dennis is on the floor with Rolan.  Russ will probably start against Temple on Thursday, but If it comes down to Dennis or Russ starting next year, I think it will be Dennis's turn.

Fordham's game plan was to double-team Rolan in the paint, but when Dennis was on the floor, that was impossible for the Rams.  Double-teaming Rolan left Dennis open to cut to the basket or to clean up misses, and that was part of the reason that Tech had a 33-24 half time lead and essentially put the Rams away in the first half.

This game featured, according to Bill Roth, "Three of the best dunks I've seen all year."  Dennis and Rolan both had follow-jams in fast break situations.  Dennis's dunk was a true coast-to-coast play that saw Rolan block a Fordham shot on the defensive end, and after the Hokies raced down court and missed a layup, Dennis had a follow jam.

The third dunk was an in-your-face piece of work by Andre Ray that came in the second half with the Hokies up by about ten.  Andre got the ball on the left wing, and Fordham left him a little too much room.  He swooped into the basket and absolutely crammed the ball into the hoop over a Fordham defender who didn't put up much of a fight.  Bill said the dunk was so phenomenal that even the Fordham bench was in awe of it, laughing at their own player for getting it dunk in his face.

So the Hokies troop on to the second round, where they'll meet the buzz saw known as Temple.  I don't hold out high hopes for this one, but you have to play 'em, because you never know.  The game will be televised on ESPN at noon Thursday.

USA Today box score

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