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March 12, 2015

Tom Pecora

Bryan Smith

Mandell Thomas


VCU – 63
Fordham - 57

COACH TOM PECORA:  Well, proud of our effort.  Held them to 30percent 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 second‑chance points and we had 12 and a six‑point 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 andgoing 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 big‑time 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.

Q.  Bryan looked back and realized‑‑ maybe even you're compared‑‑ how much more gratifying is it now?
BRYAN SMITH:  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.  Mandell, you take over the point guard spot about a month ago.  Just how much have you matured in that position and how excited are you to get better at point guard when you start your senior season next year?
MANDELL THOMAS:  It's helped me to mature a lot.  I've got to be a more of a vocal dude on the court, and next year, I'm going to be the senior like Bryan Smith was this year.  It will help me be a better leader on and off the court, and to work on my skills as a point guard, get to the next level.
I think I'm going to be a point guard, not a shooting guard and I think that's one of the reasons Coach put me at the point guard position.  So I think it's helped me to be more of a vocal leader.

Q.  You heard what Coach said about this program turning the program.  A year from now when you turn on the TV and see Fordham basketball, three years from now, five years from now, what will it be?
BRYAN SMITH:  It will be a great team.  We are headed in the right direction, a lot of young talent, it's going to be a great year next year I'm pretty sure.

Q.  Looked like the second half, seemed to take the ball up front, penetrate and tried to get a shot in the paint.  You seemed to penetrate okay.  What happened once you got inside?
MANDELL THOMAS:  We wanted to drive the ball, force to pick the guard (indiscernible) layup, fake it to a body, get some fouls or kick off for a three, that's our best offense.
BRYAN SMITH:  Just got to stay aggressive, especially against a team that presses all game.

Q.  As the point guard, not having Eric Paschall there, the A‑10 Rookie of the Year, to be able to still compete and have those three guards and be able to play at a high level, how much confidence does that give you guys going into the future knowing you still play three guards and also play with Eric on the floor as a force?
MANDELL THOMAS:  I think it gives our team a whole lot of confidence.  I just said he's Rookie of the Year.  It also gets other people on the team to step up.  Close games like that, we're one of the top teams in the country, we competed the whole game, gives us a lot of confidence.

Q.  Why did you believe in Fordham basketball when you came here and why do you still believe in them going forward as a program that it's going to turn the corner?
BRYAN SMITH:  I believe in Fordham because when I was getting recruited here, it was a bunch of honesty.  The head coaches and assistant coaches was very honest with me.  And right now, Fordham basketball is in the best state.  And in the future, they told me in the future, we're going to come here and turn the corner, me and Branden and everyone else who was here at the time.  As you can see we're headed in the right direction with that young talent.

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 A‑10.  We lost a lot of games that we were in right down to the nitty‑gritty.
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, 19‑year‑old, 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.

Q.  When you played them in January, 28 turnovers, plus they had Webber, a lot different this time around.  Cut it down to 16, plus he wasn't in the lineup.  Did you see‑‑ did you make the adjustment on your end to help combat them more on a bit of pressure?
COACH TOM PECORA:  A little bit of both.  Webber is a dynamic player.  I hugged him at the end there.  Poor kid is on crutches, I told him how hard I was rooting for him and get himself healthy, and he'll play a lot of professional basketball on some level.  He's a tough kid not to root for because of the intensity and the way he carries himself.  I'm a big fan of Briante Webber.
But I think moving Mandell to the point helped us a great deal because we were playing with two freshmen point guards early in the year and that became an issue.  I'm not easy to play for in you're a point guard because I just make‑‑ there's a lot of demands on it.  It's like being, in my opinion, it's like being college quarterback and I've had some great ones, so the bar has been set pretty high.
I think Mandell has really done a good job.  Against them today, he made a couple mistakes that a veteran point guard wouldn't make and I think this time next year he won't.  He turned his back to the basket and had a turnover late in the game and a couple other minor plays like that.  I just feel good about it.
I'm bummed I'm not going to practice tomorrow.  There's a lot of guys who are like, "Thank God that's over."  I've been doing this a long time, there's a lot of coaches that are like, "Hey, man, I couldn't wait till my season ended."  I do not feel that way.  I feel I'll be lost tomorrow from 11:00 to 1:30.

Q.  I asked Bryan the same thing; to have him play some of his best basketball down the stretch of his career, as his career winds down, how much more gratifying is it for you to have watched him grow for four years?
COACH TOM PECORA:  It's been great.  Like I said, I love him.  His father is an alum.  His dad didn't play ball at Fordham but he's class of '81, big‑time family, classy family, went to Midwood High School.  I saw him score 67 points in high school.  I kidded him his freshman year.  I said, "You're not 67 all year, kid," and we used to laugh about it.
No matter what, he stayed steady.  He's just legit, so many ways and when he has bad games, he feels it.  It's a family thing.  He feels the pain.  And like I said, he had a lot of opportunities and believed in all of us at Fordham, and I don't think he has one regret.
And as I've said, you know, more than once, what we tell kids when we recruit them is:  This is not about four years; it's about 40 years.  And if you come to Fordham, you will be hooked up for the rest of your life because you are going to have a Fordham degree.  And I cannot tell you, I've been to seven universities; the alumni base at Fordham University is so impressive the way they take care of their own and kids get a wonderful education.  So when they come out they are prepared to be successful whenever they are done playing ball.  He's going to be big time.  They both are.  You can see that.
I've been in press conferences with teams over the years and you're just cringing wondering what they are going to say and that doesn't happen with our guys.  They are good men at Fordham.

Q.  Against George Washington‑‑ inaudible‑‑ there seemed to be almost‑‑ inaudible.  Could you pretty much equate that to having a point guard like Thomas?
COACH TOM PECORA:  Well, I think that‑‑ I think the maturation process, even though they are not playing, we have seven freshmen.  That has a huge effect on your practices every day and the way you go about your business some of them are practicing hard and some of them aren't, and you have to be on them for that.
And I think the schedule was brutal.  I was kidding with Drew.  I said I want to be involved next year.  Out of the gate, VCU at home without students at our place; then we have Dayton at home who went to the Sweet16; we had GW, a team that was projected to have a big year this year.  The January schedule was a bear.
I knew if we didn't lose our faith and we continued to work hard and we continued to believe in each other, we would have a pretty good February.  I was hopeful of that.  And we let a game slip 28th of Januaryat Rhode Island by a possession that I thought we could have had.  And then we let at home slip with Rhode Island.  We were up one with two seconds left and they made a play late in the game.
But I could see, once again, I could see it coming.  I think Mandell, and I think just the incoming tide, the positive effect of Ryan Rhoomes working hard every day, Christian Sengfelder, for a freshman, he became a force every day in practice because if he didn't play hard, he hurt you.  So darned hard, driving on the floor, it's contagious.
And then obviously Eric, we'll do things at times where we will all just look at each other in the gym and say, wow, did he really just do that.
So I think it all started to build and it really has to do with maturation.  And the other thing is usually in February, they stop listening to me, so we usually play a lot better in February.

Q.  Today's game, talk about your strategy in the second half.  It seemed to be bring the guards out, let them penetrate and make something happen.  Do you play all the time or against VCU‑‑ and Johnson has been struggling with his shooting and got it back today.
COACH TOM PECORA:  Yeah, I wanted him to get it back tomorrow.

Q.  Did you know at some point he was going to get it back?
COACH TOM PECORA:  Yeah, and he got really wide open.  The term we use is X'ing someone.  That means we are going to stay close enough to him where he doesn't get any looks.  And Melvin is an automatic X, and we obviously didn't do a great job of that because he's 4 of 7 from three.  And especially that one down the end there, where he was wide open and we were splitting back into our zone.
The tempo of the game was good.  I liked the tempo.  I wanted the game to bein the 60s.  Games in the 80s are no good for us.  So I didn't mind us taking some time off the clock and getting it up the floor.  Then running an iso‑cut late in the game and spreading them out defensively, one of the things that's difficult, they are so good and unpredictable that they are‑‑ we call them blitz packages, the way that they double‑team the basketball.  It could be dictated by a player; it could be dictated by a location on the floor; it could be dictated by a number of passes; it could be dictated by movement, ball screen, dribble handoff, all those things.
By spacing the floor, their slides to come blitz you are longer; it gives you more time and better time to react.  And then when you want a high ball screen, today they were switching them.  So when they do that, I like the idea of our guards driving it on their bigs, even though they are very big and very agile, and that was kind of a game plan.
But I wanted the score to stay 50, 60s, I was thrilled by that and you know, once again, if it gets in the 80s like this, we're not going to beat them.

Q.  Jon, when he hit that 25‑foot three, and then I came back and blocked the shot and screamed at the basket‑‑
COACH TOM PECORA:  I see him scream a lot.  I didn't know that he screamed at the basket.
But yeah, look, Jon can be a very competitive kid, and I think that this is the right environment for him to do that.  We obviously needed him to make some shots today and I thought he did a good job.  Not only making a couple threes, but penetrating and drawing‑‑ when we were having a hard time there in the first half, there was a stretch where nobody was getting to the rim except him.  And by doing that, those are kind of like body blows.  They soften up the defense a little bit so I thought he did a good job.

Q.  Looking for the third score, today you had four in double figures.  Do you think now the conference will finally know that you have pieces now, and now you have may have three, four guys and people will start to take notice that Fordham is on the rise?
COACH TOM PECORA:  I don't worry about that stuff quite honestly.  That's great.  I think that if you looked at this team and you didn't think that there was a bright future, you'd be crazy, because of the youth and the enthusiasm and the veterans that are coming back and then the addition of Ryan Canty.
Yeah, but once again, first of all, what's happened in college basketball are, the conferences are so damn big, I don't know who the other guys are recruiting.  I don't know who comes in.
So when they tell us to do these polls, guy to Joe and I'm like, Joe, help me with this‑‑ (laughter).  I was going to say, I call Lenny, but you're a pro guy now.
But this year, I saw Davidson at 12 and I just started to laugh because I worked for Bob McKillop.  I didn't think they would win the league but I knew they weren't coming in 12th.  There's just too many teams to know and keep track.
There was a story a few years ago, one of the guys in our league saw Paul Hewitt on the road and he said, "What conference are you in now?"
And he says, "Yours."  As coaches, we can't always keep track of teams coming and going and who is with who.
Yeah, look, I think we're going to be fine, and I feel lucky to work at Fordham to work in the university that's got an academic reputation.  That's what brought me there.  I thought the combination of athletics in the A‑10 and the academics could make it a special place if they were patient and they have been patient.
I think they know we are going to turn the corner here and it's going to be exciting.  It's going to be exciting when it happens.  I'm a New York guy, man, I'm not going anywhere.  I'm thrilled to still be here.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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