Men’s Basketball Drops to 9-18 With Seconds To Go

Mandell+Thomas+and+the+Rams+have+just+two+games+left+before+the+start+of+the+Atlantic+10+tournament.+%28NEIL+TENNANT%2FTHE+RAM%29

Mandell Thomas and the Rams have just two games left before the start of the Atlantic 10 tournament. (NEIL TENNANT/THE RAM)

By DAN GARTLAND
STAFF WRITER

Mandell Thomas and the Rams have just two games left before the start of the Atlantic 10 tournament. (NEIL TENNANT/THE RAM)

Mandell Thomas and the Rams have just two games left before the start of the Atlantic 10 tournament. (NEIL TENNANT/THE RAM)

Last Thursday and Saturday, the Fordham men played about 50 minutes of good basketball. The problem is that they played 80 minutes total, and that is why the Rams are 2-12 in conference now, after having lost to VCU and La Salle at home.

In the first half of Thursday night’s game against VCU, Fordham hung tight with the visiting Rams and trailed 34-32 at the break. But things fell apart in the final 20 minutes. VCU opened the second half on a 31-10 run that buried the home Rams, and Fordham lost, 85-66.

“You come out at halftime and you always talk about the first five minutes [of the second half],” Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said. “You have to match their intensity, you have to match their toughness and we didn’t do that. That’s why they are where they are right now and we are where we are.”

Fordham had a chance to bounce back two nights later against La Salle, and overcame a deficit in which the Rams fell behind 21-6 in the opening 10 minutes, only to have La Salle win the game at the buzzer.

Fordham did a good job clawing back out of that early hole and narrowed the La Salle lead to 30-27 at the half.

“I thought it was a great effort,” Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said. “It’s a shame to waste an effort like that and not come away with a victory.”

It was the first time in a month that Fordham played a close game. With less than a minute left to play and his team trailing by two points, Rams’ guard Bryan Smith caught a pass on the right wing. He pump faked and got his defender to leave his feet, took one dribble past him and pulled up for an 18-foot jumper.:Nothing but net. The game was tied for the first time all night, and the crowd at Rose Hill Gym was on its feet.

La Salle looked to answer, with the ball in the hands of Tyrone Garland, the hero of the Explorers’ NCAA Tournament victory over Mississippi last year.

Garland dribbled near the half-court line for much of the remaining 35 seconds. By the time he began to drive toward the basket, only five seconds remained. He drove into the paint and put up a layup, but Branden Frazier rose to meet him and swatted the ball out of bounds.

The buzzer sounded and it appeared the game was headed for overtime. But, after a video review, the referees ruled that the ball went out of bounds with .7 seconds remaining. It would be La Salle ball, beneath its own basket.

Tyreek Duren came off a screen and caught a pass in the shadow of the rim. He banked it off the glass and in. The buzzer sounded. Again the referees went to the monitor to review whether Duren got the shot off in time. They ruled that indeed he had. Game over. La Salle won 64-62.

“Right before he inbounded the ball, I went back to DJ [Peterson] and I told him, ‘Right after I set the pick, throw the ball before I even turn around, just so we can catch the defense looking,’” Duren said. “I knew if he wanted an extra second, the defender would have bounced back.”

“Until I look at the tape, I don’t know if there was .7 seconds left,” Pecora said. “I know you can get a shot up in .7 seconds. You’re supposed to be taking away everything to the rim, and one of the young guys didn’t do that. That’s life.”

Though it seems they made the right call by putting time back on the clock, they neglected to put time back on the shot clock. La Salle’s final possession began with 35.2 seconds on the game clock and 35 seconds on the shot clock. When the referees put .7 seconds on the game clock after the review, there should have been .5 seconds on the shot clock. Instead, the shot clock was turned off. Those extra few ticks may have been the difference between Duren getting the shot off in time and time expiring.

Throughout the course of the game, the officials made several questionable calls, that favored both Fordham and La Salle. For example, late in the second half, Fordham’s Ryan Canty secured a rebound and a La Salle player wrapped him up from behind. It appeared to be a classic example of an “over-the-back” foul, but instead the referees called a jump ball and awarded possession to La Salle. Pecora and the 3,000-plus fans on hand at Rose Hill Gym were livid.

At another point, after a timeout, one referee forgot how many free throws Fordham guard Branden Frazier was supposed to be shooting. He signaled for one shot, but Frazier turned to him and said, “No, I get two.” The referees got together to discuss it, headed over to the sideline monitor and decided Frazier was right.

Perhaps their errors could be blamed on their collective lack of experience. According to StatSheet.com, Mike Ashurst has worked only 11 games this season, Dennis Allocco has done 22 games and Kenneth Turner was working in his seventh game of the year.

After the game, in order to avoid being fined, Pecora refused to talk about the officiating. He also downplayed the significance of the final play.

“Everyone’s going to look at the last play, but it was lost on a couple plays,” he said, adding that the Rams allowed too many offensive rebounds and missed some key free throws.

He also found several positives to take away from the game. For one, after calling the crowd for Thursday’s loss to VCU “disappointing”, Pecora thought the attendance Saturday was “much better.”

“I thought it was awesome,” he continued. “If we have to give out white t-shirts to get people in here, I’ll buy white t-shirts every home game. I thought it was a good crowd and they were into it, and that was big. The student body was into it. I thought it was an exciting game and the crowd helped us play this way.”

With two games left — March 5 at Rhode Island and March 8 at home against George Washington — Fordham sits in last place in the conference, a position all too familiar for the Rams. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to overtake Rhode Island for 11th place to avoid playing in the play-in game in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Fordham needs one more win to equal the three A-10 games it won in the previous two seasons, but Pecora says he is not thinking about that.

“You can’t get caught up in hard numbers,” he said after Thursday’s loss. “As a coach, I look at my team and I look at their performance, whether we win or lose. We lost to Richmond here in a game we should have won, but I was proud of our effort. At VCU I thought we played pretty darn well. If we had given that kind of effort in some of the other games, we would have picked up wins earlier in the year. I really just look at the performance of it. When we do turn the corner and when the talent level rises, then those will turn into victories for us.”

“We’re doing everything here except winning,” he said when the subject came up again on Saturday night. “We’ve come a long way in three years, but obviously the last step in the process, and what I get paid for, is winning basketball games.”

With two regular season games remaining before the end to a disappointing season, Pecora’s biggest problem is keeping his team motivated.

“I told them to man up,” he said Thursday. “I tell them all the time, this isn’t the worst thing that’s going to happen in your life, losing basketball games. Your parents are going to die. You’re going to have friends that die. You’re going to have real life issues, health issues, things like that. This is a college basketball game. But play it like a man. Don’t play it like a little boy. If you’re not ready to come out and compete, stay in your dorm room… But that’s the bottom line: you go out and you compete. They’re 20-year-old men. They could be on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. You’re complaining about playing basketball? There’s worse stuff going on in the world than college basketball. So come out and practice your ass off every day, and play your ass off every opportunity you get to step on the court.”