Bronx, NY—There was great basketball excitement on the Rose Hill campus of Fordham on Saturday. The Butler Bulldogs (21-5, 8-3), in its first season in the Atlantic-10 Conference, was making its initial visit to Fordham (6-20, 2-9) . The two schools had played once previously, on March 12, 1959, in the first round of the NIT. On Saturday, Butler, ranked #11 in the nation, was a prohibitive favorite, yet the game was the first sell-out of the season at the Rose Hill Gym and was nationally televised on the CBS Sports Network.
After the game concluded, both coaches were critical of those who believed they knew the final result before the game began. Fordham’s Tom Pecora heatedly commented, “We don’t want anyone to come here thinking they know the outcome.” Brad Stevens, head coach of Butler remarked, “It’s easy to say one team is going to win, but it’s hard to win.”
The Butler Bulldogs flourished during the early minutes of the game, scoring the first seven points. The lead did not continue as star senior Chris Gaston returned to action after missing the last seven games with injury. To the delight of the capacity crowd, he stepped on the floor in the third minute of the contest. The lead shrunk as Gaston scored the next five points and evaporated as freshman Ryan Rhoomes followed with two lay-ups to give the Rams a 9-7 advantage at 12:38.
At 7:32, a lay-up by Gaston led Fordham to its largest lead, 20-14. The visitors showed the reason for their high national ranking by ending the first half with a 16-6 scoring run and a 30-26 advantage. Butler guard Rotnei Clarke led the Bulldogs with 14 points and five rebounds during the first stanza.
The Rams, in front of a full-house of enthusiastic rooters, played with maximum effort. They scored the first nine points of the second half to move ahead, 35-30, at 16:13. Thirteen unanswered points by the Bulldogs followed to give Butler a 43-35 advantage at 14:05. The final Butler lead in the contest could not be overturned regardless of the efforts of the Fordham players or the wishes of the fans inside the gym.
The Fordham defense prevented the Bulldogs from sinking a field goal during the final four minutes of the game. The Rams were within one possession of tying the score with 18 seconds remaining, but four Butler free throws in those final seconds ensured the exciting victory for the visitors.
The return of Chris Gaston brought added strength and confidence to the Rams. Despite being absent for 13 games with a serious knee injury, Gaston looked in great form; he scored 21 on 9 for 17 from the field and grabbed six boards. The senior explained his feelings of being back on the court, “I was trying to get in rhythm. They weren’t trying to double-team me. I felt real comfortable. “Gaston’s career stats continued to rise; his 1,617 points rank 8th in Fordham scoring and his 1,014 rebounds are 3rd in Fordham career totals.
Although Fordham was unable to gain the victory, Pecora was quite pleased with performance of his team, “We’re getting better as a team. We played to the wire with the 11th ranked team in the country. We’re knocking on the door. We have to kick it in.” Of the remaining games to play this season, Pecora said, “With the performance we had today, why can’t we win the next five games?”
Fordham will return home for Senior Day on Saturday afternoon, February 23 to face Richmond.