Gone are the days when Fordham would roll into an opponent's A-10 gym, take the floor, and get soundly beaten by 30 regardless of the opponent. Second-year coach Tom Pecora has built the Rams into a team that will be competitive with most of the teams in the conference. Massachusetts got a first-hand account of that process when they lost 77-73 to Fordham last year in the Bronx, ending Fordham's 41-game A-10 losing streak.
Fordham rolled into Amherst, Massachusetts off of their 60-54 victory over #21
Harvard, their first over a ranked opponent since their 2000 victory over local rival St. John's in Madison Square Garden. Tom Pecora has upgraded the talent level at Fordham since his arrival, adding local guards Branden Frazier, Fatty McMillan, Bryan Smith, and Jeff Short. Also, Pecora has added big men Marvin Dominique, Kervin Bristol and Ryan Canty, a Danvers, MA native. The additions of McMillan, Smith, Short and Canty give the Rams added depth to go along with junior forward and double-double machine Chris Gaston.
Awaiting them in Western Mass. was a confident, scrappy and familiar (11-3) Minutemen squad led by sophomore transfer point guard Chazz Williams. Ironically, Williams, a prototypical scrappy point-guard from Brooklyn, was recruited to Hofstra by current Fordham coach Tom Pecora. Williams played his freshman year at Hofstra, then transferred to UMass after Tom Pecora left to take over at Fordham.
As soon as the game started, all 2,846 spectators in the Mullins Center could see that this would be a battle of styles and whichever team would control the pace of the game would win the game. Under fourth year coach Derek Kellogg, the Minutemen looked to push the ball whenever they could and their most effective offensive was beating Fordham down the floor for a quick bucket. Fordham, on the other hand, prefers to play a more methodical half-court game, based around their zone defense, and patient offense that is run through Chris Gaston.
Fordham did a good job controlling the first half of play and with only a couple minutes to go, held a 32-26 lead. In a scene reminiscent of the game earlier this season against St. John's, Fordham allowed Massachusetts to control the last two minutes of the half, and Massachusetts went into the break with a 33-32 lead in a half in which they were outplayed.
Coming out of halftime, Fordham, plagued by foul trouble, had to sit starting point guard Fatty McMillan. When he went to the bench, the full court press that the Rams had dealt with effectively in the first half began to cause problems. Turnovers were forced and the pace of play began to reflect something more out of Rucker Park than division one college basketball. After a Gaston lay-up tied the game at 44-44, Massachusetts went on a 14-0 run in a little over three minutes of game time.
The run, propelled by three three-pointers, would have killed off Fordham in previous years. Instead, the Rams regrouped and, with the help of sloppy and careless play from Massachusetts, worked their way back into the game. Even with starting PG Fatty McMillan fouling out of the game, the Rams continued to claw back and eventually cut the lead to one, with two of Branden Frazier's 19 points with 0:18 left.
Fordham then sent Chazz Williams to the line, who proceeded to miss both free throws, but then grabbed one of his seven rebounds. After making both of his shots, Fordham found themselves down 79-76 with 0:15 left. Reserve PG Lamount Samuell inadvertently drew a foul instead of setting up a teammate for a three-pointer. After missing the first free throw, Lamount missed the second on purpose but failed to hit the rim. Chazz Williams hit one more FT in the final seconds to get to his game-high 20 points, giving the Minutemen an 80-76 win.
Massachusetts denied Fordham a winning "streak" of sorts in A-10 play and extended their own overall winning streak to six games. Fordham, on the other hand, will be kicking themselves watching this game tape due to all of the missed chances and turnovers, the most costly coming late in the second
half due to a lazy backcourt pass between Frazier and Samuell which put the Minutemen up 74-67. This Fordham team showed they have more hunger, fight and ability than last year's squad and, at the Rose Hill Gym, they should not be taken lightly. There were forty-one losses in between Fordham's last two A-10 wins. After their performance in Amherst, they will not see a repeat of that and should qualify for the A-10 Tournament.