Men’s Basketball Struggling in Conference Play

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Men’s Basketball Struggling in Conference Play

Junior Mandell Thomas and the Fordham Rams have struggled in the early going of conference play. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram

Junior Mandell Thomas and the Fordham Rams have struggled in the early going of conference play. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram

Junior Mandell Thomas and the Fordham Rams have struggled in the early going of conference play. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram

Junior Mandell Thomas and the Fordham Rams have struggled in the early going of conference play. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram

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Junior Mandell Thomas and the Fordham Rams have struggled in the early going of conference play. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram

Junior Mandell Thomas and the Fordham Rams have struggled in the early going of conference play. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram

By Max Prinz

Following his team’s loss to Dayton on Jan. 10, Fordham men’s basketball head coach Tom Pecora compared the experience to watching a movie he had seen over and over.

“I have seen this movie, too,” Pecora said. “We play our tails off for about 30 minutes and then we just get worn down. We don’t have the grit of a veteran team.”

Pecora’s young team hung with a strong Flyers squad for the first 20 minutes of play and went into the halftime break tied at 25. Then, as they have seemingly all season long, the inexperienced Rams fell apart and allowed the Flyers to shoot 84 percent from the field in the second half.

That home loss to the Flyers has become a blueprint for many of Fordham’s games this season. The Rams have struggled to maintain a consistent level of play for a full 40 minutes.
“Our defense in the second half was atrocious,” Pecora said after the Dayton loss. “I looked at the number and almost passed out.”

Since the loss to the Flyers, the Rams have extended their losing streak to five games, four of which have been double digit defeats. Pecora’s team suffered back-to-back defeats in Pennsylvania, falling to Saint Joseph’s, 66-55, and to La Salle, 60-49.

Against the Hawks, Fordham failed to make shots down the stretch, finishing the contest just 20-52 from the field, a 39 percent clip. The Rams also failed to execute at the foul line, making just eight of 15 free throws and were outrebounded 42-25.

The Explorers asserted their dominance from the start, connecting on eight of their first nine attempts and building a 17-2 lead in the game’s first four and a half minutes. It was far too large a deficit for the inexperienced Rams to overcome.

As they have all season, some of the younger Rams showed flashes of brilliance in those games. Freshman Eric Paschall scored a game-high 25 points against the Explorers and his classmate Christian Sengfelder scored an impressive 17 against the Flyers. Both have continued to improve, but their youth provides just as much frustration as it does hope for the future.

The strong performances from freshmen have yet to be complemented by veteran support. Fordham’s most experienced trio, senior Bryan Smith and juniors Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes, are averaging just over 23 points per game combined and have turned in a number of uneven games.

Adding to the frustration has been the disappointing sophomore season for guard Jon Severe. Severe, who took a leave of a absence from the team, returned to action on Jan. 4 against VCU and scored nine points that delighted the crowd at Rose Hill. He has come off the bench since his return, but has yet to rediscover his scoring touch. Additionally, his nine turnovers in four games point to a great deal of rust.

“Jon’s got to get his confidence back, he’s got some growing up to do,” Pecora said following the Dayton game. “You can learn a lot by getting your tail whooped but it’s all about how you respond. He’s got to take his energy and his competitive nature and rise to a higher level.”
Changing this narrative of frustration, Pecora says, will require an increased commitment from the entire team.

That’s about grit, that’s about toughness, that’s about competitive nature, in my opinion,” Pecora said. “That’s something that I have to put on them every day in practice.”
The Rams are now 5-11 on the season and 0-5 in Atlantic 10 conference play. With 13 games remaining, all of them in the challenging A-10, a third straight 20-loss season has become an all too real possibility.

“An easy thing to say is this is a group that hasn’t won yet, a program that hasn’t won in a long time,” Pecora said. “But, I’m not using those as excuses, whether they be true or not. My job is to find a way to get them fired up to play for 40 minutes and to find a way to win.”