With Chris Gaston injured, Branden Frazier has stepped up and become leader that Tom Pecora envisioned he would be in his junior year at Fordham. (Photo courtesy of WFUV)
After five games on the road, the last two without their first team all-Atlantic 10 senior forward, Fordham University finally comes home Thursday night to christen Rose Hill Gym for the 2012-13 season, doing so in the 105th edition of the "Battle of the Bronx" against Steve Masiello and Manhattan, who come to the oldest venue in the nation at 1-3 on the season after a 66-58 loss to Dayton Saturday night.
In Chris Gaston's absence, Fordham has competed much better, defeating Penn for their lone victory in a 1-4 start to the year, while only falling to Fairfield by just three points after a three-point attempt by Branden Frazier that would have sent the game to overtime came up short at the buzzer. Frazier has filled in for Gaston as the Rams' leader, scoring 41 of his 84 points in the last two contests, including a season-high 22 against Fairfield on November 20th. Fordham also picked up career-high point totals from freshmen Jeff Short (17) and Travion Leonard (10) in the loss to the Stags, and have been paced throughout the season by the long-range efficiency of sophomore guard Bryan Smith, who has shot 48 percent from beyond the arc to begin the season. Freshman guard Jermaine Myers has been a solid contributor all year, while reserve forward Ryan Canty comes off a seven-rebound performance against Fairfield.
It goes without saying that Rams head coach Tom Pecora will need these outings to be replicated for Thursday night's showdown with the Jaspers, who welcomed George Beamon back into the fold last Wednesday after the senior swingman had missed the first two games of the season with an ankle injury. Manhattan comes into this matchup having won three of the last four meetings with the Rams, and are heavily favored to extend that streak to four of the last five. The game will be televised on the YES Network at 7:30 pm, with Fordham alumnus and ESPN Radio personality Ryan Ruocco on the call; but for those of you interested in a pregame appetizer over the next 48 hours, our friend John Templon from Big Apple Buckets took some time away from his outstanding coverage of the metropolitan area to answer a few questions regarding the Jaspers and the state of mind with which they come into Rose Hill.
Jaden Daly: Now that George Beamon is back to the tune of 29 points against Hofstra and 19 against Dayton, is it safe to say that Manhattan is just now rounding into the form everyone expected from them at the start of the season?John Templon: Yup. I think it is. George Beamon just does so much for this team. He's not just the guy who scores the most points. He also quarterbacks the pressure defenses and takes the attention away from every other Jasper on the court. He's scored in both games and Manhattan beat Hofstra for its first win and hung with a good Dayton team on the road. His healthy return means that all the pieces are in place for this team to start winning again.JD: Emmy Andujar hasn't been able to get out of the box so far this season, but Manhattan's depth has prevented this from becoming a bigger issue. Can he get it turned around against a Fordham team that is still without Chris Gaston?JT: Andujar had a strong second half against Dayton, scoring 10 points and knocking down some key shots, so the hope is the momentum from that game will carry over to Thursday night. He's from the Bronx and last season he was way too amped up for the game and ended up having a bunch of turnovers, so he'll need to calm his nerves a bit beforehand. Andujar has been playing a lot of "power forward" for the Jaspers and it's an odd position to put a 6'6" player into, especially one that's such a good ball-handler. It'll be interesting if the Jaspers continue to use him in that way against Fordham.JD: Much like the Rams, Steve Masiello also has an abundance of youth in Riverdale. Which of the underclassmen looks like the most talented so far?JT: In terms of the freshmen, the player getting the most run is point guard C.J. Jones. He's a 6'0" freshman from Chicago, who came in with a reputation of being a tough on-ball defender. Jones has a college ready body, but he's struggling a little bit with his aggressiveness and has picked up too many fouls in the early going. The other freshman getting some time is Shane Richards. He's a 6'5" forward from York Prep in the city. He's mostly shot threes and hasn't made one yet. (0-5 from the floor)JD: Michael Alvarado has gone to his outside shot more often than not recently, and it helped win the game for Manhattan last week against Hofstra. Is Alvarado's matchup with Branden Frazier the most intriguing of the night, and if not, what is?JT: It's worth noting that besides his outside shot, Alvarado continues to attack the basket hard and get to the free throw line. He's attempted 19 free throws and 24 shots from the field thus far this season. Alvarado against Frazier should be an intriguing match up. Frazier is arguably Fordham's best player with Gaston injured and shutting him down will probably be the key for Manhattan in this game. If Alvarado is hitting threes, like he did in a short sequence against Hofstra last week, then the Jaspers are really tough to beat because then Rhamel Brown; who has developed into an excellent forward, gets more space underneath.JD: Manhattan defeated Fordham by 34 points in last year's Battle of the Bronx at Draddy Gym. Should we expect more of the same, or will the crowd and atmosphere at Rose Hill play more into Fordham's favor?JT: I certainly don't think this is going to be a blowout. Going to Rose Hill is much different than playing this game in Riverdale. Fordham is going to have the opportunity to grind out a win in what should be a raucous atmosphere. I expect Manhattan to win, because with Beamon healthy teams like the Rams are teams the Jaspers should beat, no matter if it's home or away, but the Rose Hill magic gives me pause in predicting anything besides a close win.