Judging by the size of the crowd at the start of Fordham's game against Virginia Commonwealth University Thursday night, you might say that expectations have been tempered in the Bronx.
Before a half-empty Rose Hill Gym, Fordham played a solid 20 minutes of basketball in a game it was never expected to be in.
But as a few more fans trickled in—the announced crowd was 2,253—the night took a turn for the worse, eventually ending in an 85-66 win for VCU.
Fordham led by seven, 26-19, with 6:22 remaining in the first half. But VCU outscored the Rams, 15-6, to close out the half and totally dominated the game's final 20 minutes, highlighted by a 31-10 run over the first eight minutes coming out of the break.
"In the second half, we came out with better energy, and just across the board, our guys showed more fight," VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. "When that happens, more stuff happens for you on the offensive end."
Whatever Smart used at halftime to motivate his players obviously worked.
"I told them we have to make a choice to be better, to support each other and play with more energy," Smart said. "When we're the most aggressive team, when we're flying around, when we're pushing the tempo, that's when we're at our best."
While VCU was at its best in the second half, Fordham was at its worst. But the night didn't start that way at all.
For Fordham, there were positives to take into the locker room at halftime.
The Rams led at all four media timeouts. They got strong play on the offensive end from Mandell Thomas (11 points) and Jon Severe (seven points). Ryan Canty played 12 minutes and grabbed seven rebounds. And Fordham was down just two, 34-32, heading into the break.
"I thought Fordham did a great job at the beginning of the game being aggressive and getting us on our heels a little bit," Smart said. "We didn't have as much energy as I would have liked us to have early on."
But it was all VCU in the second half. The level of energy picked up, and the shots started to fall. Fordham didn't have any answers, and suddenly, this one was over with a lot of time left on the clock.
Fordham head coach Tom Pecora talked before the game about limiting VCU's chances in its half-court offense, taking care of the basketball and rebounding. In the second half, VCU shot 9-of-15 from three-point range, forced eight turnovers, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and blew the Rams out of their own gym.
"As always, you come out of halftime and you talk to the team about the first five minutes," Pecora said. "You have to match their intensity and match their toughness. We didn't do that. That's why they're where they are right now and we are where we are."
On the night, VCU outrebounded Fordham, 56-32, had 24 second-chance points, scored 14 points off turnovers and had 38 points in the paint.
"It's a grind," Pecora said. "They're a gritty team and we're not right now. That's our biggest problem. We have to find that."
Severe and Thomas finished with 14 points apiece and Branden Frazier added 10 for the Rams. Canty led the team with 10 rebounds, though he had a quiet second half.
For VCU, Juvonte Reddic had a monster game, scoring 22 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Rob Brandenberg had 16 points and Melvin Johnson added 14.
"Reddic was great," Pecora said. "As a veteran frontcourt guy, he's very efficient in everything that he does."
With the loss, Fordham's fifth in a row, the Rams dropped to 9-17 overall, 2-11 in the Atlantic 10. VCU is now 21-7 overall and 9-4 in conference play.
"Teams that win find ways to win," Pecora said. "Teams that lose know how to lose.
"[We're] trying. [We're] just not making those plays."
All quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.