Mandell Thomas' 20 points led all scorers in Fordham's 69-55 win over Saint Joseph's. (Photo courtesy of The Fordham Ram)
BY PATRICK McCORMACK
The Rams' progression showed on Sunday, as Pecora's group won their second straight home game, defeating Saint Joseph's by the final of 69-55 at Rose Hill Gym.
"We're maturing, and we're getting better," Pecora said. "In the beginning of the year, we said 'let's get one percent better at practice.' We're at our 76th practice, so if that's holding true, we continue to get better."
The key to the Rams' success was the play of their three upperclassmen: Mandell Thomas, who had a game-high 20 points, Bryan Smith; who had 12 points, and Ryan Rhoomes, who had six points and 12 rebounds. Each knew the role they had in helping the team.
"You can only be as good as your upperclassmen," Pecora reaffirmed. "Now, we have Bryan, he's had an up-and-down season, but he's going to finish strong and I believe it, Mandell embracing the move to the point guard position, and Ryan Rhoomes just going out with a workmanlike performance."
Fordham picked up their game midway through the first half, going on a 16-3 run to take a 29-23 lead, a rally that led the Rams to a 31-26 halftime advantage.
Saint Joseph's came out of the gate on an 8-2 spurt to regain a 34-33 edge, but Christian Sengfelder hit a three-pointer to put Fordham back on top. After a Smith free throw, Sengfelder then hit another three and a layup, capping a 9-0 outburst to put Fordham up 42-34. The Hawks cut the Rams' lead to six on a DeAndre Bembry layup, but again, Fordham responded; this time with a bucket from Jon Severe, two free throws from Smith, and five straight points from Thomas as part of a 9-2 run, stretching their lead to 13 points, at 51-38.
Saint Joseph's ran at the Rams again, with an 11-4 explosion to make it 55-49, but three-pointers from Thomas and Smith pushed the Fordham cushion back up to 12 points. The Rams then used their defense and rebounding to maintain their lead and put the Hawks away.
"Our goal was to protect the paint, and we outrebounded them 40-27," Pecora said, "and we got great looks from three. Our defense is getting better and better, 34 percent."
Fordham, who is 2-4 in their last six games, with three of their four losses by a combined nine points, has continued to improve their young team with help from their veterans. The Rams, who play George Mason next on Wednesday, feel that if they keep playing well and getting better, they can make a run at the end of the year.
"The league is wide open," Pecora reiterated after the game. "You see the scores, close games from top to bottom. We've just got to keep our mojo going in the month of February, and we could be a dangerous team."