Philadelphia, PA - Andre Ray, Russ Wheeler, and Brendan Dunlop made big plays down the stretch to key a run that lifted Tech to a 51-48 win over Fordham in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.
The Hokies were losing this game 46-40 with under 10 minutes to go, but a game-ending 11-2 run, led by Ray, Wheeler, and Dunlop, sent the Fordham Rams home 0-9 all time against Tech. Dunlop hit two free throws with 6.9 seconds to go to push a 49-48 Tech lead up to the final 51-48 margin.
For the game, Dunlop and Wheeler led the Hokies with 13 and 12 points, and Ray snared 11 rebounds, one off his career high.
Tech got off to a good start in this game, leading 12-5 after seven minutes, but a 10:40 stretch without a field goal ensued, and Fordham put together a 19-2 run to take a 24-14 lead with under four minutes to go in the half.
At this point, Tech was in total disarray, and Tech coach Ricky Stokes was using every player on his bench. The only backup who didn't play was Jermaine Kimbrough, as Rodrigo Viegas and John Smith in particular logged major minutes.
In that first half, and for much of the game, Tech was crippled by foul trouble by Rolan Roberts. Roberts, who has avoided foul trouble for most of the season, picked up two quick fouls in this game and stayed on the bench for much of the game. He played only 23 minutes.
When Stokes gambled and put him back in with two fouls with about five minutes to go in the half, Roberts picked up his third foul within two minutes. He would eventually finish the game with just 3 points and 2 rebounds, and it was only through the efforts of Ray, Wheeler, and Dunlop that the Hokies won.
Fordham took a 26-24 lead into half time and quickly stretched it to 30-24 within the first minute of the second half. From that point on, Tech made a couple of runs at the Rams, only to see Fordham stretch the lead back out to 5 or 6 points every time Tech got within a basket.
At the ten minute mark, Fordham led 46-40, and the Hokies were floundering. Enter Andre Ray, who had spent much of the second half on the bench. The Tech senior, perhaps remembering the frustration of his 18-minute outing against Duquesne just 10 days ago, played like a man possessed, chasing down loose balls and grabbing rebounds to spark the Hokies.
Ray missed a three-pointer shortly after entering the game, but he ran down the rebound and saved it to Russ Wheeler under the basket, who laid it in. That made the score 46-42 and sparked the final run by Tech.
"I shot the ball and I thought it was good when it left my hands," Ray said, "but it came off the rim, and I looked at it and thought 'I can get that.' Then I just ran after it and threw it back in, I saw Russ cutting and just flipped it to him as hard as I could and he caught it and laid it in."
The Hokies finally got the lead back, going ahead 48-46 on a dunk by Jon Smith, who took a lob pass from Rolan Roberts. Tech led 49-48 with just over four minutes to go, and the only points in the last four minutes were Dunlop's free throws at the end.
During the 11-2 game-ending run, the Hokies got a handful of hustle plays from Ray, Wheeler, and Dunlop. In addition to his assist to Wheeler, Ray blocked a shot, scored on an offensive put-back after a missed free throw, and generally controlled the boards.
Wheeler drew a charge late and scored 6 second-half points. With Tech leading 49-48 and the Rams holding for a last shot with under 30 seconds to go, Dunlop stole the ball, got fouled, and hit two free throws with 6.9 seconds to go to seal the win.
All in all, it was three seniors acting like they didn't want their last game to be a loss to Fordham.
"This is a good win," Ray said. "We were missing one of our key players in Dennis, but it feels good to know that we can still go out and play good basketball and win ballgames without our leading scorer and rebounder. It feels great."
In addition to Roberts struggling with foul trouble, the Hokies didn't get much of a contribution from shooting guard Brian Chase. Chase was hounded all day by Fordham and shot just 3-11 for the game, including 2-9 from three-point range. He finished with 8 difficult points in 35 minutes. The 5-9 Chase, a freshman, was guarded primarily by 6-4 senior guard Scott Harmatuk.
"Their whole game plan was that Chase was not going to be the guy to beat them," Tech assistant coach Donnie Marsh said, "and if you put a 6-4 guy on him and they’re chasing him the whole time, that’s tough for him sometimes to get a shot off. He (Chase) will be a better player tomorrow."
Next up for the Hokies is the insurmountable mountain, the Temple Owls.
"They're the best team in our league and one of the best teams in the country," Marsh said, "but they’re not invincible. We need to throw some things at them that perhaps they haven’t seen, and I think we’re ready to do something like that."
Game time is noon, and it will be televised on ESPN.