The struggles of Fordham’s men’s basketball continued this past week. The Rams dropped a pair of Atlantic 10 Conference matchups, losing a heartbreaker to Rhode Island at home and falling to Dayton on the road. Head coach Tom Pecora’s team is now 5-14 on the year and 0-8 in the A-10.
“I think we’ve lost one just about every way this year,” Pecora said after the team’s loss to Rhode Island. “We’ve got to just find a way. We’ve got to take wins. No one is going to give us anything.”
Fordham’s first game of the week against Rhode Island offered the best chance for the team’s first conference win. Fordham faced Rhode Island on the road earlier in the season and lost by just three points. This second battle of the Rams was a similarly tight contest. The two teams went back and forth in the Bronx, each battling for supremacy all night long, and Fordham held a one point, 32-31 lead at halftime.
Pecora had promised changes to the team’s pre-game preparations after the loss to George Washington, and they appeared to pay off when Fordham took their lead into the half.
“We practiced instead of just having a walk through,” Pecora said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do. I only know one way, and that’s when things aren’t going good, you work harder at it.”
In addition to a more taxing pregame regimen, a new offensive system provided Fordham with a boost.
“We put in a new offense, you saw that we were running a flex and we shot 50 percent in the first half—we haven’t done that in a long time,” Pecora said. “In the second half we got away from it a bit.”
Though it avoided a slow start, Fordham was unable to maintain its offensive momentum and was doomed by poor shooting in the second half. Despite the poor shooting, the game was tightly contested all the way to the wire. It included eight lead changes and 10 different instances of a tied score.
Rhode Island’s first lead came at the 4:25 mark, but its first chance to control the game followed two controversial whistles, the first of which came with 50 seconds to play. Fordham senior Bryan Smith was called for an offensive foul on a drive that led to a Rhode Island bucket.
Then, sophomore Jon Severe was called for a loose ball foul while going for a rebound that drew the ire of the entire Rose Hill Gym. The two whistles against Fordham gave Rhode Island a 62-61 lead with 19 seconds to play. Out of a timeout, junior Mandell Thomas attempted to save a broken play by driving to the basket and drawing a foul.
“That wasn’t the play,” Pecora said. “What we called, they countered, and Mandell kind of just took it into his own hands.”
Thomas made both free throws and gave Fordham a 64-63 lead with nine seconds left. Then, disaster struck.
Rhode Island inbounded the ball and E.C. Matthews drove in from the right side, but missed a layup. Fordham failed to grab the rebound, and the ball was tipped and grabbed by Gilvydas Biruta, who put it in at the buzzer for the game-winner.
The buzzer-beater was a heartbreaker for Pecora and his team. The Rams were visibly dejected after the final horn as the referees confirmed that yes, the tip-in counted.
“You got white shirts on, and you expect to get whistles a little bit near the end,” Pecora said, “but we’ll practice our tails off and get ready to go to Dayton.”
Any improvements the Rams made against Rhode Island did not travel with them to Ohio. The Rams were upended in the Buckeye state, falling to the Flyers 101-77. Dayton’s five starters combined for 98 points, and the Flyers had 21 assists on 32 field goals. It was a performance that dramatically overshadowed a strong effort from Severe and freshman Eric Paschall, who had 17 and 19 points respectively.
Next up for the Rams is a home matchup against UMass on Wednesday. Pecora remains dedicated to finding his first conference win of the season.
“The harder I work, the luckier I get,” Pecora said. “So I’m just going to continue to work hard.”