The first steps toward March Madness of 2015 took place on the first weekend of 2015 as the NCAA conferences began their schedules. On Sunday afternoon, the VCU Rams (11-3, 1-0), the pre-season selection of Atlntic-10 coaches and SIDs to finish first in the conference visited the Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx to face the team selected to finish last, the Fordham Rams (5-7, 0-1).
The visitors, under the able direction of Shaka Smart, one of the most respected young coaches in college basketball, exhibited why their havoc defense is so feared. VCU forced 14 Fordham turnovers in each half of the game. Fordham’s 28 turnovers exceeded its 20 field goals. Sunday’s contest was the fifth for VCU in which its’ opponents turnovers were equal to or exceeded its field goals. VCU scored 36 points off Fordham’s turnovers, nearly 50% of its 75 points, contrasted with Fordham’s 11 scored off VCU’s uncharacteristic 17 turnovers.
The coaches of both teams spoke of the importance of turnovers in the result. Fordham coach Tom Pecora explained, “28 turnovers, that’s the key. It’s all about ball security.” Smart told reporters, “With some teams, if we apply a lot of pressure, we can get a lot of turnovers.”
For the fifth straight game, VCU led from start to finish. They scored the first seven points of the contest. Freshman Terry Larrier netted a three at 10:54. In the next minute, 6-3 junior Melvin Johnson followed with two lay-ups. The production of the two Bronx natives gave VCU its first double digit advantage.
Fordham cut the deficit to single figures in the last five minutes of the half.
Fordham began the second half with a 7-1 scoring run that cut the lead to a single point, 38-37, at 18:35. The short spurt was followed by VCU scoring 14 unanswered points to bring the score to 52-37 six minutes later. The double figure led remained for the final 12 minutes of the game that ended with a VCU victory by a score of 75-58.
Interesting to the nearly full house in the Bronx gym was the fact that two starters on the Virginia university five were natives of the Bronx while not one of the players for Fordham were born in the borough. Melvin Johnson, a junior, has improved his stats each season. Last year, he started 7 of 33 games but averaged double figures in points, 10.4, and was named the Atlantic-10 Sixth Man of the Year. He has started all 14 of the Rams’ games this year and is second in scoring and in minutes played on the team. Johnson scored nine, and had two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 22 minutes against Fordham.
Terry Larrier, a 6-8 freshman, made his first start of the season in his native borough. The most highly rated recruit for VCU since Kendrick in 1991, in 24 minutes on the court on Sunday, scored eight and had one rebound, assist and steal.
Fordham senior Mandell Thomas had a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds in the losing cause. Freshman Eric Paschal led Fordham scoring with 15. Sophomore Jon Severe, after an absence of seven games, scored nine in 20 minutes of action. The VCU coach spoke of Fordham’s youngsters, “I like Fordham’s young players. They just have to get better.”
The Fordham women, on a three point basket by Danielle Padovano with 1.7 seconds on the clock in overtime, edged the Richmond Spiders, 65-64, in the second game of the home doubleheader for Fordham.