NEW YORK — Fordham hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1992, before current freshman sensation Jon Severe and many of his teammates were born.
The Rams haven’t been relevant in New York City or the Atlantic 10 Conference for years, either.
Head coach Tom Pecora, now in his fourth season at Fordham, brought a record of 26-66 into this season.
But Fordham provided a glimpse into a potentially brighter future on Tuesday night, when Severe scored a career-high 30 points and senior Branden Frazier added 21 as the Rams shocked MAAC preseason favorite Manhattan, 79-75, in the Battle of the Bronx at Draddy Gym.
“We knew it was going to be a great challenge when we came [to Fordham],” Pecora told SNY.tv after the win. “There’s been a lot of heavy lifting. But I feel comfortable that we’re moving in the right direction. Now can we be consistently good? That’s the question.”
The Rams are now 3-2 on the season and their fourth victory over Manhattan in the last 13 years followed a home loss to Sacred Heart.
Still, there is room for optimism ahead.
The 6-foot-3 Severe looked unstoppable for a half, putting up 22 points before the intermission. He cooled off somewhat in the second, only to score eight straight points — including back-to-back 3-pointers — to tie the game at 73.
His running buddy, Frazier, then scored Fordham’s last four points on a nice flip-in with his back to the basket and two free throws.
Frazier won’t be around next season when 6-foot-6 St. Thomas More (Conn.) wing Eric Paschall joins Severe to form a 1-2 punch. But sophomore guard Mandell Thomas, who posted 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win, will be.
“We just gotta get better in practice,” said Severe, the former Christ the King star who chose Fordham over Rutgers, Pitt, West Virginia and Wake Forest in order to play close to home.
“Every day is a new step for us. Eric comes next year, I think we should be a better team.”
For all the attention fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon are getting, Severe now leads them all in scoring among freshmen at 23.2 points per game.
Paschall watched the game from the stands and imagined what it might be like playing alongside Severe.
“The team is very good,” he told SNY.tv. “Even though Branden’s leaving, I think I have a chance to play. And me and Jon and Bryan Smith and Antwoine Anderson could do very well.”
The Rams were without Smith (ankle) for the game, while the 6-1 Anderson and 6-10 freshman Manny Suarez are ineligible for the season. Ryan Canty, a 6-9 junior, is on a leave of absence, but Pecora said, “He’ll come back hopefully. He’s gotta work some things out.”
In the short term, these absences mean Fordham needs a big night every night from the trio of Severe, Frazier and Thomas.
Pecora said he told them, “You gotta give us 60 every night. We need you guys.”
Rest and reduced minutes for those three? Forget about it. Severe, Frazier and Thomas have played at least 36 minutes in every game so far
“They tell me they’re tired, I just look the other way,” Pecora joked. “With all the TV timeouts now and with all of the fouls, the play stops a lot.”
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello isn’t happy with the new rules, either, but he praised Severe and Frazier, who combined for 51 points in the win.
“[Severe] is talented,” Masiello said. “He’s a really terrific player. He can score the ball and can really get going.
“I give them a lot of respect. Anytime you have a team where their backcourt is averaging 50 percent of their points, they’re going to be good, and that’s dangerous. Guards win games.”
On this night, Fordham won a big-time game against a team predicted to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Rams are still a work in progress but this performance showed a glimpse of what Fordham could be down the road.
Photo: NY Post