Tournament Loss Ends Fordham’s Season, Frazier’s Career

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Branden Frazier finished his Fordham career with 1,642 points after scoring 30 against Dayton at the Barclays Center. (MICHAEL BROWN/THE RAM)

By DAN GARTLAND
STAFF WRITER

Branden Frazier finished his Fordham career with 1,642 points after scoring 30 against Dayton at the Barclays Center. (MICHAEL BROWN/THE RAM)

Branden Frazier finished his Fordham career with 1,642 points after scoring 30 against Dayton at the Barclays Center. (MICHAEL BROWN/THE RAM)

Branden Frazier’s eyes were glassy when he addressed the media following his team’s loss to Dayton in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament — his final college game. His Rams fell far behind in the first half, but Fordham’s senior point guard willed his team back into it. Frazier finished with 30 points and spearheaded a comeback that saw a 19-point deficit cut to as few as five.

“I didn’t want to go out, but it was good to be home,” said Frazier, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who played his high school basketball about a half mile from the Barclays Center. “Growing up down the block, I just felt comfortable playing and had a lot of friends and family here. It’s good to have 30 points to end your career, but to have a loss — I’d take one point to have a win.”

But that is the cruel thing about college basketball: A team’s season, or a player’s career, either ends with hoisting a trophy or a solemn final walk off the court while the other team celebrates.

“We started the game like we had run out of gas and we were tired from last night,” Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said. “Once we convinced them that that wasn’t the case, in the second half, we played with greater energy and made some of the plays we’re capable of making. I think they just wore us down.”

Dayton built a comfortable early lead by shooting the ball extremely well. The Flyers made 63.1 percent of their field goal attempts in the first half, including eight of 13 three-point attempts.

“Gosh, damn, they shot the heck out of it,” Pecora said. “They really made some great shots and they’re a heck of a basketball team.”

Fordham trailed 50-31 at the end of the first half, but slowly chipped away at the deficit before a pair of Frazier free throws cut the Dayton lead to five with 10:56 left in the game. That was as close as the Rams would get, though, as Dayton held Fordham at an arm’s length and closed out the victory.

As the clock wore down and Pecora realized the season was over, he called a timeout and told his team he wanted to take Frazier out of the game before the clock hit zero. Twice after that timeout, Bryan Smith hugged Frazier on the court. Then, with 14 seconds left, Chris Whitehead went to the scorer’s table and checked in for Frazier. The crowd rose to its feet and applauded him. When he got to the bench, he hugged every member of the Fordham sideline.

“To go out, to have everyone standing for me and clapping, even people that weren’t Fordham fans, meant a lot to me,” Frazier said. “And to go down and hug every single person that I went to battle with every game is special.”

Fordham’s loss came the day after a win over George Mason in the tournament’s first game, the Rams’ first postseason victory since 2007.

“I wasn’t satisfied with just one win here,” Pecora said. “I don’t think they were. I know Branden is not.”

For Frazier, it was the abrupt end to a stellar career. He ranks ninth on Fordham’s all-time scoring list, and second in assists. But most importantly, Frazier was the only player to commit to Fordham in Pecora’s first season and stay all four years. Pecora points to him as the foundation that allowed him to start building his program.

“He means a lot,” Pecora said. “He gave us the credibility to be able to go out and to get Bryan Smith, and then go out and get Jon Severe and get involved with other good players.” Frazier originally committed to play for Pecora while he was the head coach at Hofstra and followed him to Bronx, N.Y., when he took the Fordham job, and Pecora has continually praised Frazier for his loyalty.

“He was coming with us to Hofstra, and when I decided to make the move and come to Fordham, it was one of the first phone calls I got,” Pecora said. “I was getting a lot of phone calls and not taking them, but when his name came up I picked it up. Before I could say anything, Branden said, ‘Coach, I’m with you if you’ll have me.’ There were a lot of people who didn’t think he was an Atlantic 10-level player. There were a lot of people who thought he should stay in the [Colonial Athletic Association] but I believed in him.”

But there is more to life than basketball.

“He’s grown as a player and he’s grown as a person,” Pecora said of Frazier. “He’s graduating; he’s a fine student. You just see the way people react to him, here and everywhere. He’s just a wonderful kid. I have an 11-year-old son, and if he could be like him, I’d be blessed.”