Turnovers don’t tell the story of Fordham’s youth

Fordham has a young team. Tom Pecora is running out freshman and sophomores in a number of key places in the rotation. Typically when people think “youth” in college basketball it automatically equates to “turnovers,” but as the Rams’ 56-50 loss to St. John’s on Saturday in the MSG Holiday Festival proved, there’s much more to the equation.

The Rams turned the ball just 12 times against the Red Storm. The team’s inexperience showed up in other places instead. The biggest issue happened right around halftime. Fordham led 26-24 with 3:12 remaining in the half after a Chris Gaston dunk, but St. John’s closed the half on an 11-0 run. Pecora tried to stop the bleeding with a timeout, but it wasn’t enough. The big blow came with nine seconds left when Lamont Samuell’s turnover ended up as a fast break dunk for the Red Storm to close out the half.

“Going into the half that’s on me,” Pecora said. “With a young team I should either burn a timeout or play [Devon] McMillan and [Kervin] Bristol. Even though they both had two fouls I was debating whether to put them back in or not and that turnover going into the half hurt. It allowed them to go up nine.”

Another way Fordham’s youth shows up is shooting the basketball – both shot selection and just the ability to get a good shot opportunity in the rhythm of the offense. Offensive players struggle to rub off defenders while cutting, passes aren’t quite as crisp as they should be, and the spacing isn’t perfect. All those thing come with experience. Against the Red Storm’s length and athleticism Fordham shot 29.7% from the field (19-64). Bryan Short was 3-10 and McMillan was 3-11. The Rams also attempted only seven free throws, making four.

Shooting has been a consistent struggle for the Rams this season. Fordham came into the game in the bottom 15 teams in the country in both three-point percentage (332nd at 25.5%) and free throw percentage (336th at 57.3%).

“We’re shooting the ball well in practice. We’re shooting free throws well in practice. Then the lights come on and we’re not,” Pecora said. “I think that’s just a sign of youth. I keep saying their youth is going to make me old.”

Even with those challenges shooting the ball, Fordham was able to get the game close down the stretch. The Rams closed to within three on Bristol’s dunk with 1:58 remaining. Unfortunately St. John’s was able to salt the game away as shot clock violations and missed shots cost Fordham down the stretch.

Part of that is because the younger Rams are still learning the value of possession near the end of games. Fordham actually had two chances to tie the game in the final two minute of the game, but Smith’s three was off the mark and Gaston missed a jumper. Whereas in high school a team might get a number of possessions to take the lead, in college those opportunities are much fewer and Pecora is still trying to show his team the value of possession down the stretch.

Still, the team is moving in the right direction. Fordham has come a long way from even a few games ago when the Rams were blown out by Manhattan and then lost at Monmouth, one of the worst teams in NCAA Division I, by 15. In this one the Rams were able to mostly stick to the game plan, besides the fact that St. John’s grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, and had a chance to win the game down the stretch. Right now that’s the best Pecora can hope for. It also bodes well for Atlantic 10 play.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Pecora said. “I think there will be games in the conference where we’ll compete more than we did last year. We’ll be in more games and hopefully get a couple Ws.”

Before they get there the Rams still have three more non-conference home games against Texas Southern, Georgia Tech and Harvard – and a whole lot left to learn.

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