Tom Pecora took the Jostens catalog that sits untouched in his drawer and gave it to Branden Frazer.
He told him to take the book, which has prices and designs for championship rings, and pick out a set for the entire team.
He said point blank that Fordham would win the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“Now if that comes true, someone can write a book,” the Fordham head coach joked. “But you’re just always looking to get them motivated. They’re a part of history tonight. They did something special.”
The Jostens catalog serves as motivation for Pecora and his players. Though the dream it offers a Fordham program that hasn’t won an A-10 tournament game in seven years is still far away from becoming a reality.
Fordham didn’t win the conference tournament on Wednesday night, but it got a step closer. It fought tooth and nail in the opening round of the A-10 tournament, beating George Mason 70-67 in front of a small but spirited crowd at Barclays Center.
“I wrote on the board before the game, ‘Only courage can secure victory,'” Pecora said. “And I thought we were very courageous. We played without fear and we continued to do the things we needed to do.”
It was clear from the get-go that if Fordham’s 9-20 season was going to end, it wasn’t going to be without a fight. Each play was met with a screams and raucous on-court emotion.
After Frazier found Ryan Rhoomes cutting to the basket for an and-1 layup to give Fordham a 10-5 lead heading into the first media timeout, Frazier pumped his fist in the air and Rhoomes waved one finger as he jogged back to the Fordham bench.
“There’s a lot of kids that when you’re 9-20, you’re going to just go through the motions every day,” Pecora said. “But they have really been practicing hard and I’m very proud of their effort for that and that speaks to their character and their substance.”
Fordham trailed 1-0, but once it took the lead right after, it never gave it up. The Patriots got close, cutting a once 11-point lead to one with nine minutes to play, but Fordham followed it up with five straight points.
When the lead was cut to one again with 15 seconds left, Fordham hit six straight free throws to close it out.
“One of the things we talked about quite a bit was we’re just going to make them miss the first shot,” George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt said of Fordham’s 24 offensive rebounds. “You can’t let them get a second shot, and I think sometimes it deflated us.”
Ryan Canty proved to be a key contributor in GMU’s inability to get the ball back off of Fordham misses. He corralled a career-high 19 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass.
Surrounded by a sea of white jerseys, time and again it was Canty who skied above the pack to keep the possession alive.
“He’s like always the heart and soul of the team,” Fordham guard Bryan Smith said. “Like he’s always pumped up, he gets the team and the crowd going, and that’s great for the team.”
The win means that Fordham plays again at Barclays on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. against Dayton. The Rams need four wins in four more days to become champions, a feat that not many – outside of Pecora – believe is possible.
But the way Pecora see’s it, just because they shouldn’t doesn’t mean that they can’t.
“It’s important for Fordham,” Pecora said. “It’s a big step for us, and we’re right there in rebuilding this. We are so close. We’re right there. So for them to win this, it’s another step in the growth process.”
Sam Blum is a writer for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on twitter @SamBlum3.