The Real Meaning of Fordham's Victory Over St. John's

by Andrew O'Connell
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What if Feels Like To Go To a Real Basketball School

One week removed from Fordham’s stunning 84-81 victory over St. John’s in the Rose Hill Gym, I thought that the hangover from the biggest victory of the past decade had begun to wear off for me (a week full of final exams and term papers will tend to do that to a college student).  Feeling that I needed a little study break, I decided to pop in my DVD copy of the game and relive the moment.  I’m glad that I did.

If you want to know how much this game truly affected me, you first have to know a little bit of my background with Fordham sports.  I am a junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill who has worked for both WFUV Sports and the Sports Information Department for the better part of three seasons. Over my first two years, the men’s basketball team finished a dismal 5-51, and I was there to see most of those losses in person.

You also have to know a little bit of my personal history with New York City basketball.  My mother is the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Fordham history and my father is a St. John’s grad who also happens to be the National College Basketball Writer for the Associated Press.  I have attended more games at Carnesecca Arena than I care to count, and I know Madison Square Garden better than I know my own neighborhood.  I also grew up in the shadow of Hofstra University, where a coach by the name of Pecora led some of the most talented, yet underrated squads I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on the hardwood.  

So naturally when I settled into my seat to serve as the public address announcer last Saturday for the St. John’s game, my pessimistic nature held the best of me.  I was the living embodiment of the losing culture that Coach Pecora seeks to eradicate at Rose Hill.  When people asked me for my prediction, I told them Johnnies by 20, and didn’t think twice doing it.  Now, I fully repent for my lack of faith. 

In those opening minutes of the game though, I felt more like the Grinch than a hopeful Fordhamite.  My little heart turned black and cold as St. John’s held a 19-point lead with just under ten minutes remaining in the opening half, and Dwight Hardy seemed to score as if the defense didn’t exist.

“Another loss for sure,” I thought to myself.  And one could tell that the enthusiasm in my public address voice was as genuine as Bernie Madoff’s accounting records.

It only got worse as the game moved into the second half and the Red Storm lead expanded to 21.  Then, the silver lining appeared on the cloud in front of me.  A four-point play from Brenton Butler ignited a 16-0 Fordham run that saw the Johnnies lead cut to four with 12:25 left in the game.  Now, the enthusiasm in my voice was real.  For the first time in my Fordham career, I really thought something magical was in the works.

Moments later, as St. John’s opened its lead again at 73-61 with 8:46 remaining; my hopes flew out of me like a tractor-trailer releasing the air breaks. “Game over,” I thought.  Luckily, the men in maroon and white to my left shared no similar feelings. Branden Frazier, the freshman point guard from Brooklyn who played decades beyond his years that night, sank back-to-back threes over 27 seconds to shrink the deficit to six.

Chris Gaston, the 6’7” sophomore who has been so statistically impressive over his career that he makes a double-double seem pedestrian, went coast to coast, absorbed the contact and made three the old fashioned way.  Fordham trailed by three.

Then, Brenton Butler, the unquestioned hero of the night who played the entire second half with four fouls, slashed through the St. John’s defense and effortlessly rolled the ball in the cylinder for his 20th point of the game.  Fordham now trailed by only one. 

After another St. John’s possession where the foul-plagued Fordham defense held off the potent Red Storm attack, Chris Gaston used every single inch of his nearly seven foot wing span to pull in an offensive rebound off a Marvin Dominique missed layup.  Gaston converted on the put back and let out a primal scream of celebration as his Rams took the lead 74-73. 

Alberto Estwick’s quick catch-and-release three pointer on the ensuing Fordham possession extended the lead to four.  At this point, the Rose Hill Gym shook with the jubilation of 3,200 long-suffering Fordham fans.  Even though I was shouting into the public address microphone at this point, the atmosphere drowned my voice so that even those sitting directly under a speaker could not hear me.

Fordham and St. John’s traded points over the next couple of minutes, and after two Paris Horne free throws, the Johnnies led 81-80. 

“No, God, no,” I pleaded.  You can’t do this to me.  You can’t take me this close to the brink of success and then leave me there.  Then, God answered my prayers in the form of Marvin Dominique.

Dominique, the 6’7” freshman from Florida, had proved over the first few games that he could rebound with the best of them.  His offensive skills though, were raw.  So when Dominique drove to the hoop with 90 seconds remaining in the game, my heart dropped halfway to my waist.  Luckily, he drew the foul.

Then, he stepped to the line looking cooler and more collected than Shaft, and drained both shots without even grazing the rim.  Fordham led 82-81.

After a missed jumper from D.J. Kennedy of St. John’s, Brenton Butler solidified his spot in Fordham history.  He brought the ball up the court and dished it off to his backcourt partner Branden Frazier.  Frazier threw it back to Butler at the top of the key.  Butler then drove to the left elbow and sent a silky smooth jumper to the rim from fifteen feet.  He nailed it.

In a moment that I couldn’t have thought up in the innermost recesses of my imagination, Fordham led St. John’s 84-81 with less than ten seconds remaining in the game. 

After one last defensive stand, Fordham won.

Writing that sentence one week removed from the game, I still smile ear-to-ear.  Forget 5-51, forget the loss of Jio Fontan, forget those games where the Sixth Man Club had fewer than six men in its ranks; Fordham just beat St. John’s.

Although my professional capacity didn’t allow me to rush the court, I simply stood in my place, half in a state of unbridled joy, half in a state of pure bewilderment.  Even the event staff in charge of crowd control had rushed the court.  As the band played the Fordham fight song for the final time of the night, I high-fived people I’d never met and hugged people I barely knew. For the first time, I felt like I go to a real college basketball school.

Following the game, Coach Pecora echoed the sentiment he’s had since day one at Fordham about overcoming our culture of losing. 

“This is my vision of this program,” he said.  “This is the way it can be.” 

All I can say in response is, "Thank you, coach."

Editor's Note: Since there are no commercial DVDs of this game we are adding to this story Liz Kiernan's  highlight recap so that you might experience what Andrew did.  Listen to the entire broadcast here.

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St. John's Highlight Recap