Shaka Smart saw his VCU team dominate Fordham in second half en route to 85-66 victory at Rose Hill Gym. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"You can't let them beat you up on the offensive glass, and you can't let them turn you over. At halftime, we had six turnovers, held them to 34 percent from the floor, and they had nine offensive rebounds. I told the team (that) if we fixed our rebounding issues and kept the other two stats in that neighborhood, we had a chance to win the game. They went and got 24 offensive rebounds, and that was the difference in the game, 36 points in the paint, (Juvonte) Reddic was great, as a veteran frontcourt guy, he's very efficient in everything he does. You've got to match their intensity, match their toughness, and we didn't do that, so that's why they are where they are right now and we are where we are. So we've got one day to prepare for a good La Salle team that's coming off a win and 'NBA' practice will go on for about an hour tomorrow. I'm disappointed in the crowd. I thought we'd get a better crowd here tonight. You'd think people would want to see this team who was in the Final Four a few years ago. They're a gritty team, and we're not right now. That's our biggest problem. I thought we would get some grit from our frontcourt guys, but it's not happening, so we have to find that if we're going to find another couple (of) wins."
On lack of team chemistry in second half:
"Well, that's residue of losing, you know what I mean? Teams that win find ways to win, teams that lose, they know how to lose; and as fired up as I try to get them, as gritty as I want them to be, you see heads go down, especially when they make mistakes, because they care. If they didn't care, their heads wouldn't even go down, they would run around saying 'it's just another day in the office.' They're trying, and they're just not making those plays. Bryan Smith had five turnovers. You're playing small so that doesn't happen, and that's the first game this year that he's had issues doing that. Part of that is that the guards weren't doing a good job freeing themselves, and in turn, Bryan was stuck on an island (on) a few occasions trying to get the ball in, so you look at those five and Travion Leonard's two when we had him playing at the four, and that's half of their turnovers. That's their game plan, they try to wear you down, they try to get you in the late rounds, you know?"
On whether consistent effort was a major issue:
"Oh, without a doubt, and I think that's been an issue for us throughout the season. There's been two major issues in my mind: One is getting that kind of team effort for 40 minutes consistently, and our offensive field goal percentage. We got some really good looks, and if you're going to beat VCU, you've got to make those shots. We got some wide open threes for our guys and we couldn't knock them down. Bryan doesn't make one and Jon (Severe) is 2-for-7, so those have been our two Achilles' heels, I think."
On Jon Severe:
"He's been up and down, but he's a freshman. You're not going to depend on freshmen, no matter who they are. I've had great ones. It's very hard to depend on freshmen to carry you through a season, but one of the reasons for that is the veterans are going through similar seasons. Look, Jon's going to be a fine player here, it's going to take time. It's hard when you have just one senior trying to teach a bunch of guys how to do things."
On Branden Frazier:
"One assist, four turnovers. It's unacceptable for anyone, especially for a senior. His erratic intensity is something I talk to him about all the time. You can't let that happen."
On what Frazier has meant to Fordham over his four years:
"He came with me, so I appreciate that. I feel bad that he's kind of Butch without Sundance, you know? If we had had another guy in that class that really progressed like he did, we could have turned this thing around. We're doing everything here except winning. Look where we're sitting, 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, and that's what's got to happen as we move forward. I appreciate everything he's done, but I'm his coach. I want more out of him, I know how good he could be. I'm on Branden a lot about a lot of things, on and off the court."
On having won only three Atlantic 10 games in each of the past two seasons:
"The A-10 is better now than it's ever been. One of the issues is ever since we've been in the league, the A-10 just keeps getting better and better, and we're trying to leapfrog people and we haven't been capable of doing that, and it's an arms race. As a coach, I look at my team, and I look at their performance, whether we win or we lose, I mean, we played pretty well. We lost to Richmond here in a game we should have won, but I was proud of our effort. At VCU, we played pretty darn well. When we do turn the corner, when the talent level rises, those will turn into victories for us."
On the Atlantic 10 tournament:
"I still want to battle and not play on Wednesday night, and I've told those guys that. That would be a good achievement for this team, and for the sake of the league, I want to play on Thursday. It would be good for the league because it would generate some excitement. I've been down this road. My first year at Hofstra, we went into the CAA tournament and we knocked off George Mason, who was the 1 or 2 seed at the time, and all of a sudden the world changes, because the pressure's on your opponent. We've got to get three guys having huge games, Saturday and again Wednesday at Rhody, which could be a huge game. I haven't lost my grit, I haven't lost my competitive nature, and I still think that if these guys get their minds right, we can do this."
On his message to the team:
"I told them to man up. I told them this is not the worst thing that's going to happen to you in your life, losing basketball games. Your parents are going to die, you're going to have friends that are going to die, you're going to deal with 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, and if you're not ready to come out and compete, stay in your dorm room. That's been my message to them for a long time. Some of them are responding, but they kind of get overshadowed by a few that aren't, and that's a postseason issue that I'll address. That's the bottom line, guys. You go out and you compete, you know? They're 20-year-old men, they could be on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. You're complaining about playing college basketball? There's worse stuff going on in this world than college basketball, so come out and practice your a-- off every day and play your a-- off every time you step on the court."
Nuggets of Note:
- Juvonte Reddic was an X-factor for VCU, taking advantage of the huge size mismatch in his favor by going off for 22 points and 12 rebounds as Shaka Smart's Rams outscored Fordham 51-34 in the second half after only leading 34-32 at the intermission. VCU was also buoyed by a blistering 9-of-15 performance from beyond the arc after the break, making seven of their first eight on a night where they made 10 of their first 15 second half field goal attempts.
- Mandell Thomas, who had 25 points in Fordham's first meeting against VCU, only managed 14 points, and was visibly fatigued after halftime, as VCU tightened up their patented "Havoc" defense. Thomas, Branden Frazier and Jon Severe only accounted for 38 combined points on 12-of-35 shooting, despite VCU managing only eight steals. Even more surprising, Briante Weber only procured one theft.
- Despite scoring only two points, Ryan Canty was Fordham's best player on the defensive end, with 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in 21 minutes against the likes of Reddic and Treveon Graham, who only scored four points after coming into the game as VCU's leading scorer.
- Finally, what started out as a close Fordham game turned into a second half where the intensity just went flat faster than a bottle of soda sitting out on a kitchen table for four hours. As the second half progressed, both Rob Brandenberg and Bronx native Melvin Johnson continued to get uncontested looks from the three-point line, and neither disappointed on the way to a combined 7-of-11 showing on the night. Fordham will need to tighten that up on Saturday against the likes of Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills of La Salle, both of whom are marksmen who shoot the ball at a 40 percent clip from behind the line.