By Max Prinz
The men’s basketball team picked up its first Atlantic 10 conference win of the season this past Saturday, defeating Saint Louis 83-65. The Rams had superlative performances from a pair of freshmen and snapped their nine-game losing streak.
“It feels really good; I’m not going to lie to you,” head coach Tom Pecora said after the Rams’ win. “I’m really happy for them.”
The team’s first conference win was not the only milestone the Rams managed to hit this week. Fordham’s 78-72 loss to UMass on Wednesday was Pecora’s 100th defeat at the helm of the Rams.
Fordham managed to hang with UMass all the way to the final buzzer. The Rams entered halftime with the lead, but a four-minute slump in the second allowed the Minutemen to score 10 straight points and to steal the game.
“There was a stretch there in the second half where we went from up six to down six and that was the game right there,” Pecora said following Wednesday’s loss. “In the second half, that four-minute stretch killed us.”
With the loss, Pecora reached the century mark in just his fifth season at Fordham. Still, he remained positive and refused to allow his team to give in.
“I told them, ‘We’re right there,’” Pecora said. “I said, ‘Don’t you dare lay down, don’t you dare quit’.”
The Rams’ perseverance finally paid off against Saint Louis. They played perhaps their best basketball of the season against the Billikens, shooting an even 50 percent from the field for the first time since their last win on Dec. 31. Fordham also tallied a season-high 39 free throw attempts, something Pecora said he emphasized heading into the game.
“We talked about dominating the paint,” Pecora said. “I think the guys really played under control and did a great job scoring in the paint.”
The Rams dominated right from the opening tip, jumping out to a 12-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes and never looking back, something they had failed to do in previous contests.
“We didn’t back down,” Pecora said. “We continued to compete for those last 20 minutes.”
The second half was a particularly great example of competitive Fordham basketball. Fordham shot 66 percent from the field and scored 50 second-half points against Saint Louis, the highest total since the Rams’ season opener. The offense was humming, using a combination of hard screens and nice passes to create good, open shots.
The Rams were led, as they have been all season long, by freshmen Eric Paschall and Christian Sengfelder. The young Rams each scored 22 points, with Paschall making a game-high eight free throws and Sengfelder connecting on all three of his attempts from long distance.
“I was in the gym early, working out,” Sengfelder said. “When I’m out there and I’ve got a shot that’s open, I take it.”
Paschall said the win meant a lot to him and the team.
“I’ve been wanting to win since I came here,” Paschall said. “Winning is a great feeling; it’s not fun to lose. All I want to do here is win.”
Pecora was visibly proud of his two underclassmen.
“It’s nice to have two freshmen sitting next to you coming off a win like this,” Pecora said. “I keep telling them ‘I believe in you’ and you just have to continue to believe in yourself.”
To express his happiness, Pecora pulled both Sengfelder and Paschall in the game’s waning minutes. Both freshmen received a standing ovation as they exited the floor, their first A-10 victory in hand.
“Hopefully it’s the first of many,” Pecora said.