Undermanned Fordham didn’t care how much size or talent Manhattan has on its roster. All the Rams knew was that they had to find a win, or it was going to be a long holiday week.
Playing with just two true forwards in the rotation, Fordham got 30 points from freshman sensation Jon Severe and held on for a gritty 79-75 victory over Manhattan in the 106th Battle of the Bronx on Tuesday night.
Severe scored 22 of his game-high 30 points in the first half and was named MVP. He was helped out by Branden Frazier, who had 21 points and five rebounds, and Mandell Thomas, who scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I told Jon, Branden and Mandell, ‘We need 60 a night from you three guys,’” said Fordham head coach Tom Pecora. “That’s the only way we can win with Bryan Smith down. We’re a little light.”
Pecora got even more production than that on Tuesday. The trio combined for 68 points and almost every single one was necessary. Manhattan even took the lead with 4:07 remaining on a three-point play be George Beamon before Severe and Frazier finished them off.
Fordham needed those three to have such dominant performances because while the Jaspers went 11 deep, just seven Rams got on the court. Even when Severe picked up two early fouls Pecora left him out there. The freshman went 32 more minutes picking up just one more foul.
“There was really no choice to it,” Pecora said about leaving Severe in the game. “You can lose games in the first five minutes too.”
Early in the first half it appeared the Jaspers had figured out a way to slow down the Rams’ star freshman. Severe didn’t hit a shot in the second half until his three with 5:59 remaining brought Fordham back within one. His second three of the final 20 minutes was even more important, as it tied the game with 4:39 to go.
“I was tired,” Severe said about his slump early in the second half. “I just try to fight through. I know we have a break the next few days and just try to get through it.”
Despite a cold shooting night, Manhattan battled all game. Rhamel Brown was limited in the first half by foul trouble, but came back with vengeance in the second and finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 9 blocks. Beamon shot just 7-21 from the floor, but still led Manhattan with 24 points.
Ultimately it was a difference at the foul line that cost the Jaspers the game. Even in their own gym, Manhattan attempted 14 fewer shots from the line. Both Severe and Frazier each took 13 shots from the charity stripe, while Beamon led Manhattan with nine attempts.
While one might be apt to blame the foul disparity on the new rules, but there are a couple factors at play that make that far from the only explanation. For one, even last season Manhattan was one of the most foul-prone teams in the country. Opponents had a free throw rate of 46.6% last season, 332nd in the nation. The Jaspers are above even that mark this season, but it’s also early. The other factor at play on Tuesday was Fordham’s zone and small-ball lineup. Theoretically zone is designed to help a defense stay of fouls the Rams played plenty of it against a cold-shooting Jaspers lineup that went just 6-32 from three. The four guards also allow Pecora’s team to attack from any spot on the court, which is exactly what Severe, Thomas and Frazier did.
Ultimately, Fordham’s 63.8% free throw rate in this game was actually below Manhattan’s season average 67.7%. Steve Masiello can complain about the officiating – though he refrained from it postgame instead telling the media to check out Tom Izzo’s thoughts on the subject – but the Jaspers are going to have to adjust. There are some dumb fouls being called right now. (A particularly horrendous one in this game was when an offensive player got a foul called by leaning into a defender.) But it’s also a part of how the game is going to be played this season. Manhattan can’t have every opponent attempt 35-40 free throws and expect to win consistently. It’s just an adjustment that will have to be made.
In the end Fordham pulled out a well-deserved victory in front of a raucous crowd of 2,520 at Draddy Gymnasium. Pecora’s team will only get better as reinforcements arrive. For now though they made due with what they had and battled for an important program win.