The VCU Rams beat the Fordham Rams, 63-57, on Thursday afternoon at the Atlantic 10 Tournament. VCU will next play the Richmond Spiders on Friday afternoon in the Quarterfinals at 2:30 pm.
VCU: Treveon Graham – 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting, 2-7 on threes, with 9 rebounds and 2 assists. Melvin Johnson – 16 points on 5-8 from the field, 4-7 on threes. 6 rebounds, and an assist. Terry Jarrier – 10 points on 1-for-11, 1-6 on threes, 7-8 on free throws, 7 rebounds and an assist.
Fordham: Jon Severe – 14 points on 3-for-10 shooting, 2-4 on threes, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Manny Suarez – 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting, 3-4 on threes, and 8 rebounds. Mandell Thomas – 12 points on 5-for-11 from the field, 1-3 on threes, with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Bryan Smith – 11 points on 4-for-11 from the field, 3-7 on threes, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Turning point of the game: Fordham took a 45-42 lead on a three from Bryan Smith at the 10:47 mark of the second half. They held onto that lead until the 6:07 mark when Manny Suarez hit a three to make it 52-50 Fordham. From that point on, VCU went on an 11-3 run to take a 61-55 lead on a Treveon Graham free throw with with 30 seconds left. Graham had a layup in the game-deciding run.
Head Coach Shaha Smart on the game: “Got to give a lot of credit to Fordham. They have gotten better and better over the course of the year, and those young guys are really making strides. We talked about it as a team; that Severe was going to be able to do a whole lot more than he did yesterday. I think he only played four minutes and took one shot yesterday, and he certainly was aggressive today. Our guys, we got some good defensive stops in the latter part of the game, last six minutes and that was the difference.”
Q. For those of us up here who don’t get to see VCU, Richmond, that rivalry, give us a sense, what’s that like.
MELVIN JOHNSON: “It’s like the city campus versus the private campus. We’re about nine miles apart. It’s like a different world when you cross that side of town. I never see their fans. They never see our fans. But our fans generally dislike them. Their fans generally dislike us. But it’s just a game to us. It’s just another opponent and you have to lock in and not over think it and we don’t put too much emphasis on rivalries, etc.”
TREVEON GRAHAM: Same thing Mel said. No matter what we’re it is, it’s going to be a good game when we step on the floor because we’re competitors, both of us are competitors and when we get on the floor, we want to win, so it should be a good night.”
Q. Was there a point where you felt the momentum swing and you really got things going?
MELVIN JOHNSON: “When Mo went to the free throw line, they were up to five and we were able to cut it a little bit and from that point on, our huddles got a little more tighter, and our leaders stepped up and pretty much said we got more stops and guys responded. And Jonathan he played a huge part. He came in, pressured the ball, found the open guys and that was the big push for us.”
COACH SHAKA SMART on their crowd: “Yeah, our crowd is terrific, and our fans, we’re always appreciative of them coming up to Brooklyn and supporting us. I don’t know what the numbers are but it seems like every time we come up here, we have as many fans as anybody, or more. So I think that just says a lot about the people that support us and them being behind us and you know, obviously some people probably made plans to be up here for the first game being Friday; some people adjusted their plans as we did, and we are appreciative of that and excited about playing on Friday against Richmond.”
Q. When you got down five, it seems the intensity picked up on your end, especially on the glass. Did you sense anything with your guys or did you say anything to them at that point?
COACH SHAKA SMART: “Did I say anything to them? Yeah, I said a lot to them. But it’s not really about what I said. It’s about their decision to play with more aggressiveness it. You know, Fordham, really every time we play Fordham, they play us really tough. Usually somewhere early in the second half, we’re able to break away, but today, that was not the case, and they made some shots and hung in there with us. But I thought our guys did a good job of being the more aggressive team the last six minutes.”
SHAKA SMART on the significance of playing Richmond a third time: “It’s significant well, not really the number of times, but just that we’re playing them right now. We had a really tough loss there a couple weeks ago. That one for our guys was a tough one to take because one of those games where they out played us for most of the game, and at the end of the first overtime, we felt like we had stolen the game and then they stole it back. So it’s interesting, I heard from a lot of fans after the game, that was just a fun game to watch. As a coach or a player, it’s a little bit different. But we’re excited about a chance to play them again. They are a really good team. I think they have gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and should be a great game.”
Head Coach Tom Pecora: “Well, proud of our effort. Held them to 30 percent from the floor. Some of our game goals we achieved. The one thing we did talk about was their ability to hurt you on the offensive glass. They had 18 secondchance points and we had 12 and a sixpoint game. I think that kind of speaks to their 20 offensive rebounds hurt us a great deal.
“But we played and we competed, and I think a couple of the guys were gassed. Christian Sengfelder was gassed. And also, you’re a freshman and going to be he’s such a good player, Treveon did a great job for them as Melvin did.
“Their veterans really stepped up and did a good job; as our one senior did, here, Bryan, and obviously bittersweet. I just talked to him. A lot of guys would love to finish their career playing ten minutes from home in a bigtime arena and he was able to do that.
“Like I said before, I’m indebted to him for coming to Fordham. There were a lot of other options and we weren’t the flavor of the month. But it’s a bit easier for guys to come now because they see that the future is bright (inaudible) our throwback to Branden Frazier and to Bryan, because they helped us build this thing.
“You know, if you said to me, hey, you’re going to hold VCU to 30 percent from the floor and you’re only going to have 16 turnovers, I would say, we’re going to win the basketball game. But the difference maker was them on the boards and Graham Rhoomes battled with them.”
BRYAN SMITH on if it’s gratifying to play well in his last game at Fordham: “I mean, it is very gratifying but honestly, wish we would have gotten the win. Me and my brothers, we left everything on the court. We competed the whole game, so only thing more gratifying was if we got the win today.”
Q. Manny was one of your big contributors, down low, playing defense, shooting ball from the outside. Went through a stretch this year where he didn’t play for six or seven games and now being a big contributor for you guys, what does the future look like for him?
COACH TOM PECORA: “I think it’s great. He’s playing with a broken hard, too. His aunt, who is basically a second mother to him, passed away Sunday evening, 37 years old. She had a sudden heart attack and so it’s been an emotional week for the guys and for him. You know, those are the things that people don’t see. As a coach and as a teammate and as an assistant coach that you deal with. From a basketball standpoint, Manny has always had great talent. It’s just a matter of his maturation process, but I’m very pleased with the way he’s played the last couple weeks. He’s really responded, had a meeting with him probably three weeks ago and just talked to him about his maturity level in preparing. And not even preparing for games, but I’m talking about preparing for practice every day.
“And that’s what young guys, they don’t realize how intense practice is going to be, and then, you know, you’re going to get what you earn, not what you want. You’re going to get what you deserve and if he has a good practice, you’re going to get minutes; where he’s been playing well in practice, and in turn he’s gotten some minutes and I thought he’s responded. I’m excited about him. He’s a freshman. He’s big and long and he can make threes. Gets a couple blocked shots because of his timing. I think he’s going to have a big, spring, summer and fall and he’s going to be a major contributor next year.”
Q. You talked about turning the corner. Is this the type of game where you can see that growth?
COACH TOM PECORA: “Yeah, I mean, look, earlier in the year, people know more wins and losses and all that nonsense. When you’re building a program, there are stages of winning. One of the things that we did this year that we’ve never done, and I don’t think it’s been done for quite a while at Rose Hill is we didn’t get blown out of many games in the A10. We lost a lot of games that we were in right down to the nittygritty.
“As I said, I believe yesterday, we lose to Rhode Island by one possession two times. We go to Richmond and lose by three. You know, they always say, if you lose by less than five, it’s the coach’s fault, so I’ll take it. So I can see the talent and I can see them moving in that direction, and that allowed to us have the ability to close out a game at Mason.
“And then to win another game like last night, I mean, look, Mason like I said yesterday, I have a long history with Mason but I don’t think we’ve lost to Mason since they have been in the league. So I can see it coming. I can feel it coming and then when you have these two bookends, and they are puppies; they are 18 years old, 19yearold, him and Christian, Eric and Christian, you’re going to be locked up that the three and four spot. And then you have Rhoomes and Canty playing great in practice and they will compete at the five spot, and Mandell back at the point and guys will see what we can get out of the shooting guard position next year with various guys. I feel really good about this team. I’m excited.”