Fordham played smart, aggressive basketball down the stretch against Princeton and pulled out a 63-60 victory on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
For the second game in a row Tom Pecora’s team, which is now 2-8, certainly didn’t look like the one that was floundering along earlier in the season. After a close loss to St. John’s last weekend at Madison Square Garden the Rams welcomed senior captain Chris Gaston back into the fold and defeated a Princeton team that’s expected to contend for the Ivy League title.
It certainly wasn’t easy. A layup by Hans Brase pushed the Princeton lead to 10 points with 3:42 remaining. But following the media timeout, Fordham stepped up the defensive pressure and the Rams rallied. Junior guard Branden Frazier scored 13 of his game-high 19 points during the furious comeback. He went 8-8 from the free throw line.
“I just tried to attack them as much as I could and get into the lane and look for my shot or find an open guy,” Frazier said.
The final four minutes were a compilation of all the problems that have led to Princeton’s disappointing 3-6 record. The Tigers couldn’t handle the Rams’ press down the stretch with a four forwards on the court along with T.J. Bray. Clay Wilson missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 and Fordham’s Ryan Canty hit the game-winning layup.
“We’re reeling a little bit right now,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson.
The Tigers have led all but their game at Syracuse by at least eight points, but have a number of frustrating late losses.
“I keep harping on the fact that we need a full 40 minutes,” said Ian Hummer. “I thought a couple games we got pretty close. … The last five or six minutes we looked like a completely different team. In any case, you get a little pressure, you shouldn’t fold the way we are.”
Both of Fordham’s wins this season have come against Ivy League schools. The Rams also had a comeback against Penn for a 70-68 win. This one though, on the heels of a closer than it looked, 11-point loss to the Red Storm, seems to signify a change in the season’s momentum.
Fordham has found a bit of identity and can now play through a talented front court with a healthy Gaston and a surprisingly dominant Canty. Canty had 12 points and 15 boards in another impressive performance against a big Princeton front line.
“The development of Ryan and Chris coming along and the development of Branden, that’s what good teams are they have some balance”, Pecora said. “We had a three-headed monster and I was happy with that.”
Gaston managed to play 32 minutes in his return from a knee injury and scored 16 points.
“This wasn’t the best Chris Gaston, obviously he didn’t have a great rebounding night, but it was his presence in the game,” Pecora said. “Chris is a big part of this.”
The defense also played well enough throughout the game to give the Rams a chance to turn on the pressure and win it down the stretch. Hummer scored 18 points, but turned the ball over four times. Will Barrett was the only other Tigers player in double-figures with 13 and Princeton shot just 5-20 from three.
The rough edges of a tough team that can compete for a tournament spot and pull some upsets at Rose Hill are emerging for the Rams.
Fordham shot 17-19 from the free throw line and turned the ball over just 13 times against the Tigers. The shooting numbers aren’t going to be pretty, but if the defense is there Fordham will have a shot.
“I feel good about them,” Pecora said. “I know people think I’m crazy and this is uncharted territory for me. … I’ve never been 1-8, but it’s crazy, we’re not a bad 2-8 team. I think we’re getting better every minute.”