Fordham Men Improve to 2-1 with Win Over Lehigh

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Sophomore guard Mandell Thomas led the Rams with 13 total rebounds. (Photo by Michael Rezin/The Ram)

Sophomore guard Mandell Thomas led the Rams with 13 total rebounds. (Photo by Michael Rezin/The Ram)

Sophomore guard Mandell Thomas led the Rams with 13 total rebounds. (Photo by Michael Rezin/The Ram)

By DAN GARTLAND

EXECUTIVE SPORTS EDITOR

If the Fordham men’s basketball team is going to have any success this season, its guards must rebound well. The undersized Rams, who will primarily use a four-guard lineup, cannot rely on a sole forward to control the glass.

In Friday’s 80-72 win over Lehigh, they did just that. Sophomore guard Mandell Thomas led the team with 13 rebounds and senior Branden Frazier recorded 11 of his own as Fordham out-rebounded its opponent 52-35.

Winning the rebound battle is especially important for the Rams because Fordham likes to get out in transition with its four guards and score quick baskets.

“The term we use is, ‘We rebound to run,’” Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said. “We can’t run if we don’t rebound the basketball. You can’t run on makes. When your opponent’s scoring and the ball’s going through the hoop, you can’t run. So if you want to run, you better defend your tails off and you better rebound the basketball.”

Frazier, in particular, stressed that he enjoys the up-tempo style.

“Being able to get stops and running out and getting on the break is what I love doing,” he said. “I love getting out in transition and being able to score.”

Transition baskets proved to be important on Friday, as both teams struggled to make shots in the halfcourt. Fordham shot only 39.2 percent from the field, while Lehigh was 41.3 percent. The teams were a combined 6-40 (15 percent) from three-point range.

“A game like this we would have lost, in my opinion, last year or the year prior,” Pecora said, adding that the Rams were able to pull out a victory “because of the maturity of [Thomas and Frazier].”

After a pair of strong performances in his first two games, freshman guard Jon Severe could not seem to get his shot to fall. He was 5-23 from the field, including 0-10 from beyond the arc.

“Look, he’s 0-10 from three tonight; there’s going to be nights he’s 9-10 — we’ve seen it,” Pecora said of Severe. “It’s going to be like that for a freshman. Shooters can’t lose their confidence.”

Despite the poor shooting performance, Severe was still a valuable player for Fordham.

“Jon Severe, on a night when he really struggled shooting the basketball, he’s extending the court because people are worried about him shooting the basketball,” Pecora said.

The Mountain Hawks were led by senior guard Mackey McKnight, their senior point guard, who scored 31 points.

“Obviously we had no answer for Mackey McKnight,” Pecora said. “He was just living in the lane. He scores 31 points, and obviously I’m not happy with that. Our defensive effort on the basketball was worse than poor this evening.”

McKnight scored 22 of his 31 in the first half, leading Lehigh back from an early 10-0 deficit and allowing the Mountain Hawks to take a 44-41 lead into halftime.

Fordham opened the second half with eight quick points, six of which came on a pair of three-pointers from junior guard Bryan Smith. But less than three minutes into the half, Smith picked up his fourth personal foul and was forced to take a seat on the bench.

“Bryan Smith really got it going in the beginning of the second half for us, and all of a sudden he picks up that fourth foul,” Pecora said. “That was a killer for us.”

After McKnight had his way with Fordham’s man-to-man defense in the first half, Fordham came out in a zone in the second half.

“In the first half, in the last seven minutes when they were getting to the lane, I feel like we didn’t have much communication,” Frazier said. “But in the second half, when we came out in the zone, we started talking a little more, getting some stops and making sure everyone knew where they need to be.”

The adjustment was successful and Lehigh shot only 32.4 percent in the second half.

Sophomore Ryan Rhoomes played the entire second half for Fordham as the Rams’ only forward. His fellow big men, Ryan Canty and Travion Leonard, were both unavailable in the second half. Leonard was poked in the eye during the first half, and Pecora said Canty became “real sick” during halftime.

Canty, it turns out, will be unavailable for a long time. The school announced Monday that he will take a leave of absence from the team “to address personal issues.”

Having already lost freshman Manny Suarez to an eligibility issue, the Fordham frontcourt is now dangerously undermanned. Rhoomes and Leonard are the only true forwards left on the roster. Freshman Jake Fay, who stands 6-foot-5 and was recruited as a shooting guard, will likely see significant minutes in the frontcourt.

It remains to be seen how Pecora  will manage his frontcourt when the Rams return to action this Saturday afternoon against Sacred Heart in the Rose Hill Gym.