City Sports Report

Chris Sengfelder Shines; Rams to Face Rams

2015 Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament

For the second year in a row, the Fordham Rams faced off against the George Mason Patriots in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. A year’s time brings on many changes, but Fordham beating George Mason remains the same.

Fordham bested George Mason 71-65 led by the remarkable efforts of freshman Power Forward, Chris Sengfelder who led all scorers with a career-high 27 points.

“I’m not following [stats] at all during the game,” Sengfelder said. “I just want to make some baskets and help the team win.”

Help is exactly what the Rams needed. Leading scorer, Eric Paschall wasn’t quite himself this evening. Limited to only 11 minutes of play due to an injured ankle, the freshman guard netted just a single point.

“We knew Eric wasn’t going to be 100 percent,” Coach Tom Pecora said after the game. “That’s 18 points a game for us, so one of the guys had to step up.”

It wasn’t just Senfgelder that stepped up. Senior guard, and Brooklyn native, Bryan Smith gave a solid effort for the Rams finishing with 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists.

“I think it’s quite fitting that Bryan being a senior, and being a few miles from home in Brooklyn, Midwood High School, and all of those things,” Pecora said of Smith. “We’re a young team with seven freshmen, but Bryan Smith, the job Bryan has done throughout the year, whether he’s played well or he hasn’t, he has always been a steadying force.”

The story of the first half was more or less Sengfelder and his 15 points, that, and George Mason turnovers, who tallied a quick eight before the end of the period.

While statistically those numbers would even out in the second with Fordham coughing up the ball eight times, junior point-guard Mandell Thomas gave the Rams the final edge they needed with under three minutes to play.

“In the course of what we do, I let him read the quarterback, so to speak, and see if he can jump a pass and go the other way,” Pecora said of Mandell Thomas’s huge steal with 2:52 left to play. “So, that was a big-time play.” The steal was big; the dunk on the other end was huge.

Experience is an invaluable asset when faced with an injured teammate, particularly in post-season play, but defensive stops from a somewhat newly appointed point-guard? Well, that’s just a bonus.

Ultimately, it was Sengfelder that provided the edge they needed to advance. He shot 10-13 from the floor, 4-5 from beyond the arc. The rest of the Rams ended up going 1-14 from the three-point line.

“It’s a good thing he doesn’t really force many shots,” Pecora said of his concerns with Sengfelder becoming a little trigger happy from downtown as of late. “I don’t remember him getting a three-pointer blocked this year because he’s got a great feel…I think his shot selection is exceptional as well.”

The Rams are now 5-0 against the Patriots, and as exciting as that may be, there’s precious little time to celebrate. They face a veritable Ram Jam tomorrow afternoon as they take on VCU and Shaka Smart’s  5th seeded Rams.

“I’m sure they are all fired up,” Pecora said of their next matchup. “They have been through a little bit of a rough patch, and I know Shock will have them well prepared. It’s mid-March. We know what we have to do.”

Whatever happens, the future looks bright for the Fordham Rams. They’ll lose their senior stalwart Bryan Smith, but Pecora is confident in the remaining pieces.

“I think when you look at Eric being Rookie of the Year and Christian being on the All-Rookie Team, you have bookends at the three and four spot. So I think the future is bright. But that’s the way I’ve always looked at things, no matter how this season goes with teams.”

As for George Mason, the future is hopeful, but sadly so. They have won just one NCAA Tournament game since their devastating campaign almost a decade ago, leaving Michigan State, UNC, and UConn in their wake. Coach Paul Hewitt, brought in an attempt to restore the magic of those moments, has not recreated the success he had in his 11 years at Georgia Tech, leading the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 NCAA National Championship game. In his fourth year with the Patriots, Paul Hewitt has yet to help the team to the NCAA.

When asked how he felt about his job security, Paul Hewitt said, simply, “It’s not something you think about during the season. You think about winning the next basketball game. At some point I’m sure we’ll sit down and talk.”

Hewitt has one year left on a five-year contract worth nearly $700,000, attendance has dwindled noticeably since George Mason left the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013, and a time for change may have just come.

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