Mandell Thomas' first career double-double was one of many impressive performances in Fordham's resilient 80-72 victory over Lehigh, which moved Rams to 2-1 on young season. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)
Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"I said to the team, 'it wasn't the ugliest win I've ever had, but it's in the top ten,' but the ugliest win I've ever had was still beautiful. You just find a way to win a basketball game. I'm proud of the guys, that they did that, I mean, you know, we shoot 39 percent and we were just grinding it and grinding it and grinding it. Obviously, we had no answer for Mackey McKnight, he was just living in the lane. He scored 31 points, I'm obviously not happy with that. Our defensive effort on the basketball was worse than poor this evening, but we went to the zone and we did a good job with the zone in the second half, and we made some timely shots on a night where we really struggled to shoot the basketball. We were 3-of-18 from three, we defended them well from three, they were 3-of-22, and they're an exceptional shooting team as well. So, some good things, you know, we gutted it out on the backboards, +17 on the backboards, only twelve turnovers, which is a good thing too. "
"Survive and advance, we've got a week off, you know? We play next Saturday, we've got almost a whole full week to work on the things we've got to work on, and we will get better at those, but it's still early in the season. Finding a way to win games at home, you know? A game like this, we would have lost, in my opinion, last year and the year prior, but this year, we don't lose them, and it's because of the maturity of these two guys (points to Mandell Thomas and Branden Frazier, who were also in tonight's press conference) and even Jon Severe on a night where he really struggled shooting the basketball, he's out there and he's extending the court because people are worried about him shooting the basketball, you know? I think Jake Fay gave us great minutes in a pinch here, Travion (Leonard)'s at the hospital, a finger in his eye, Ryan Canty got real sick at halftime, so we were as light as we could be on the baseline, (and) he gave us great minutes, then we were able to come back with Bryan Smith, who really got it going in the second half for us, and all of a sudden he picks up that fourth foul, and that was a killer for us, but it definitely was a team effort."
On Ryan Rhoomes (8 points, 12 rebounds) and his value with Leonard and Canty largely unavailable:
"Yeah, he was huge, and he stayed out of foul trouble. I was concerned, I was like 'man, we're really going to have to play small ball if Rhoomesie gets into foul trouble,' but I thought he did a good job. He played within himself with the exception of a couple of tough shots that he had to make. I thought he did a very good job rebounding the basketball, he had presence in there, and (Tim) Kempton's a heck of a player, he's a good little player, that young guy, and so is (Jesse) Chuku. So, he did a good job, he competed."
On Branden Frazier (24 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) and Mandell Thomas, (18 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists) and his reliance on them to rebound:
"Look, the term we use is 'rebound to run.' We can't run if we don't rebound the basketball. We can't run on makes. (When) your opponent's scoring and the ball's going in the hoop, you can't run. You want to run? Everyone wants to run. What are you going to do? Defend your tails off and you better go rebound the basketball, and with the exception of that seven-minute stretch at the end of the half where McKnight came off the flat ball screen about 100 times and got to the rim, I thought other than that, we were doing a pretty good job defending them, but that forced us to have to go zone, and to have these guys, they're more than capable of double-digit rebounds. One of the things we told them when we recruited them was 'the guards we've had, the great guards we've coached over the years, Loren Stokes, Speedy Claxton, Charles Jenkins, Carlos Rivera, they were double-double guys, and it wasn't always assists.' They were able to rebound the basketball, they fill up box scores. They were complete basketball players, and that's what these guys have got to understand, that's what they need to do every night. Those are impressive numbers when you look at 12, 11 and 13, and two of the guys are guards getting that many rebounds, and Mandell getting nine defensive rebounds was huge, especially in the second half."
On Bryan Smith (6 points, 4 rebounds) and foul trouble issues:
"Well, I don't know. The fourth foul, he says 'Coach, I swear I didn't touch him.' I just think he's, I know he's trying really hard. I just think at times he's got to be a little more patient and understand he's got to save some for the second half. We need him on the floor, it's important for him to be on the floor for us."
Branden Frazier on getting more offensive opportunities:
"It feels good, I feel comfortable with the ball. I know Coach wants me with the ball, he wants me taking shots, and I just feel comfortable, and I know my team does as well. I just want to be that guy who's able to make those big shots, and also be confident in doing it. I feel real good right now. My teammates just get me in the right spots to score, also being able to get stops and running out, getting on the break is what I love doing. I love getting out in transition and being able to score. I think that's just what helps most of all, just getting out in the break and getting shots to help my teammates, it's a big part of it."
Mandell Thomas on whether he has become more aggressive defensively, or is just simply in the right place at the right time:
"I think it's a little bit of both, you know? Coach always says 'be aggressive defensively,' and guards rebound. I've always been a good defender in my eyes, and my dad taught me a little bit when he played defense, so I think it's a little bit of both."
Pecora following up on Thomas' emergence over the past year:
"Much, much improved. I think the growth he had last February is very impressive, and he had a great offseason and worked hard. I've just got to get him to play with great intensity for 40 minutes, you know? He's a very graceful athlete, sometimes it doesn't look like he's playing hard, but he is, but he's got to realize he's good enough to finish plays, he's good enough to get fouled and still score the basketball. He's good enough for us to put him on the best offensive player and lock him up, so it's all part of the growth process as a sophomore."
Pecora on how he handled Jon Severe's off night from the field:
"Next play, man, just keep shooting, you know? Look, he was 0-for-10 from three. There's going to be nights where he's 9-for-10, we've seen it, so it's going to be like that as a freshman. Shooters can't lose their confidence. I get on these guys for not shooting enough and for not playing hard enough to get looks at threes, you know? There are times they get twos and I'm like 'that should have been a three. Maybe if you cut harder, you could have had a three,' because they can shoot the ball as well from the beyond the stripe as they do inside of it, and Jon and Bryan are the same. That's why we're playing this way, we're playing this way because we want to have that firepower on the floor."
Frazier on being unable to defend Lehigh at the end of the first half:
"In the first half, Coach was saying, those last seven minutes when they got so many layups, we didn't have much communication on the drives and things like that, so that's how they kept getting to the basket. In the second half, we came out in the zone and started talking a little bit more and getting some stops, making sure everyone was where they needed to be and just getting stops and getting out. You see, Bryan Smith hit the two threes to get our confidence going early in the second half, and we just went on from there."
Frazier on Mackey McKnight and differences in his game without C.J. McCollum:
"Real different. I've been playing him for like, three years now, and I see he's really aggressive without C.J. McCollum. He has a lot of shooters on his team, so I think he knows he's got to be the main guy and the leader on his team, and it seems like he is."
Nuggets of Note:
- The double-double for Mandell Thomas was the first of what should be many to come in the career of the Atlantic 10's highest rising star, while Branden Frazier's double-double was the third of his career, with his 11 rebounds setting a new career high.
- Fordham's starts to each half proved to be the biggest keys in tonight's win., as the Rams opened the game on a 10-0 run and started the second half on an equally impressive 8-0 spurt despite Jon Severe missing all of his ten three-point attempts, but still willing his way to 16 points.
- The 31 points scored by Lehigh point guard Mackey McKnight proved that the Mountain Hawks can still compete in the absence of C.J. McCollum. However, Dr. Brett Reed's team could have gotten more from freshman shooting guard Austin Price; Lehigh's leading scorer coming into tonight's game, who was held to just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting.
- Fordham absolutely dominated Lehigh on the backboards, outrebounding the Mountain Hawks 52-35, and doing so to the tune of 20-6 on the offensive glass. In fact, Ryan Rhoomes' six offensive rebounds matched Lehigh's total effort as a team.
- Finally, this was; without a doubt, Fordham's most impressive victory in recent memory, maybe since last December's comeback win over Princeton at the Barclays Center. The two constants in those two games, you ask? First, Branden Frazier displaying a refuse-to-lose attitude down the stretch. Whereas the senior guard scored 11 points in the final four minutes against the Tigers last year, he came up big again tonight with eight points, six of which came on clutch free throws, in the final 2:21. Second was Thomas' understated efforts on both ends of the ball. With the Rams up 75-70 in the final seconds and Lehigh threatening to extend the game, Thomas got a critical defensive rebound and proceeded to cap off the night with a breakaway dunk that put the exclamation point on Fordham's second victory of the young season in front of 2,128 in the Rose Hill Gym stands.