City Sports Report

VCU Emerges Victorious From the Raucous Ram Jam

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This afternoon you could have put your money on the Rams winning and you would have done pretty nicely for yourself. Yes, in the first of two possible matchups between schools whose mascots are Rams (the third team being Rhode Island who either team could have faced in the championship game should they advance that far), VCU locked horns with Fordham. It was a bruising matchup between a VCU squad looking to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament, and a Fordham team really looking forward to future successes with a formidable squad of returning freshmen. Unfortunately, the Fordham Rams’ plans for the future will have to wait until next season as they were unable to overcome the strong efforts of VCU’s veterans.  Treveon Graham led all scorers with 22 points and eight offensive rebounds.

“The one thing we did talk about was their ability to hurt you on the offensive glass,” Fordham Head Coach Tom Pecora said after the game. “They had 18 second-chance points. I think that kind of speaks to– their 20 offensive rebounds hurt us a great deal.”

The offensive rebound disparity aside, the story of the game was largely the VCU crowd down the stretch and the boost they gave the Rams after key baskets down the stretch.  “Yeah, our crowd is terrific, and our fans, we’re always appreciative of them coming up to Brooklyn and supporting us,” VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart said. “I think that just says a lot about the people that support us and them being behind us.”

Before it got too frenetic, the overwhelmingly VCU-populated crowd shared a wonderful moment with the two teams. VCU senior Briante Weber received a standing ovation from a fairly large sea of yellow as the afternoon crowd honored his achievements this season as A-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Weber tore both his ACL and MCL January 31st against the Richmond Spiders, a team they’ll play for the third time this season today in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament. VCU has gone 5-5 in Weber’s absence raising many questions as to whether Shaka Smart could right the ship in time to officially lock up their spot in the NCAA Tournment.  “We’re going to shake it,” Coach Smart said of his team’s recent struggles without Weber. “It’s just a matter of when that dam is going to break.”

Fordham freshman Eric Paschall, the team’s leading scorer coming into the tournament, didn’t play a single minute, as he was still hobbled by an ankle injury he suffered in practice. They would look once more for the trio of Smith, Thomas, and Sengfelder to lead them to an upset over their Ram brethren, but early foul trouble led to an ineffective first half for Chris Sengfelder, who led the team Wednesday night with a career-high 27 points.

“We played and we competed, and I think a couple of the guys were gassed,” Fordham Coach Tom Pecora said of their effort. “Christian Sengfelder was gassed.”  Sengfelder’s exhaustion showed. He had trouble getting through screens, and for virtually the entire game lost the battle in the post with the Commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Block Party, Mo Allie-Cox.

Where exhaustion had essentially done them in, Fordham stayed in the game with incredibly efficient three-point shooting, as they were 10-21 from beyond the arc.

Fordham freshman forward Manny Suarez had 13 tremendous points coming at pivotal moments throughout the game, his last basket a three pointer with 6:07 to go to give Fordham a 52-50 lead. Fordham would not lead again.

Sophomore guard Jon Severe would get them close with a deep, deep three-pointer with 2:02 left in the game bringing them within three points at 58-55. “Looked at Coach and he just put his hand up,” VCU guard Melvin Johnson said of the defensive effort on that play. “That was a deep shot. He doesn’t really care where he is. That was definitely my bad.”

Luckily for VCU, the play didn’t come back to haunt them as Treveon Graham answered with a layup off yet another offensive rebound with under a minute to play.  “I just tried to attack the glass and do what I need to do for the team,” Graham said of the play. It was enough, and Fordham never closed the gap.

VCU advances to play Richmond for the third time this season. They are 0-2 against them this year.

“We had a really tough loss there a couple weeks ago,” Smart said, referring to the double-overtime loss suffered February 25. “That one for our guys was a tough one to take because one of those games where they outplayed 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.”

As for Fordham, Coach Pecora was enthusiastic about next season.  “When you’re building a program, there are stages of winning,” he said. “I can see it coming. I can feel it coming. I feel really good about this team. I’m excited.”

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