The words were delivered to the Continental Army on Dec. 23, 1776, to boost morale during “The Crisis.”
On Dec. 23, 2012, Fordham head coach Tom Pecora opened his postgame comments by paraphrasing “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
It was mostly directed at his team, but he saved some encouragement for Siena, too.
Despite Siena’s eighth straight loss, it wasn’t merely empty sentiment.
The Saints had by far their best offensive showing of the season, and still lost, 81-75, before 2,268 at Rose Hill Gym.
Falling to 2-10 likely will amplify the drumbeat among a segment of the fan base to fire head coach Mitch Buonaguro, but the Saints steadfastly stayed upbeat, this time bolstered by a terrific comeback that fell a little short.
After trailing by 18 in the first half, Siena got rolling on offense in the second half, got within 63-62 and clawed away to the end before two free throws by Branden Frazier clinched it with 8.7 seconds left.
“I really didn’t think it was
decided until eight seconds to go. Our guys battled right to the last seconds,” Buonaguro said.
“These are trying times, in the sense that I’m not accustomed to winning games when you let opponents shoot 54 percent from the floor,” Pecora said. “We had a great first half, shooting 70 percent, which is incredible.
“Then, once again, we showed that we’re immature. We thought the game was over because we were up 16, and we allowed them to fight their way back into the game.”
The two halves were wildly different.
Fordham (3-9) exploited a flaw in Siena’s defense to shoot a ridiculous 69 percent from the field and take a 47-31 halftime lead.
The Saints adjusted on defense and turned the tables on offense, making 15 of 25 shots (60 percent) in the second half.
Rams forward Chris Gaston, back for his third straight game after missing six straight to injury, was 9-for-11 for 20 points in the first half.
After Siena eliminated the soft spot in its zone defense — even uncharacteristically switching to man-to-man for a stretch — Gaston was quiet in the second half, finishing with 25.
Coupled with the Saints’ sudden scoring proficiency, Siena, led by Rob Poole’s career-high 21 points, roared back in the early stages of the second half.
It was a five-point game, 74-69, with 2:17 left before the Rams made their free throws to hang on.
“We just came out with tremendous energy,” Siena senior forward O.D. Anosike said. “We played two-by-two, got a bucket, got a stop, got a bucket, got a stop, then got back in the game.”
Gaston showed a fluid outside stroke early, then hurt Siena inside later in the first half.
When he scored inside on a putback to give Fordham a 35-18 lead with less than seven minutes left, he actually had more baskets — seven — than the entire Siena team.
Evan Hymes made a three and a free throw to bring Siena within 37-27 with 3:03 left, but the Rams scored the next eight points, including two free throws by Frazier after Anosike was called for a technical foul on his way up the court after drawing an offensive foul making a move to the basket.
“We did a pretty good job ball-screening against it [Siena’s zone],” Pecora said. “We basically run motion against zones, and Chris was knocking down that little soft jumper from about 16 feet. That’s a zone-buster at the high post. That’s a sweet spot against a 2-3.”
“It was poor ball-screen coverage,” Anosike said. “We were doing something that we weren’t really too familiar with, and he was able to get the ball right in his wheelhouse. When we changed defenses, that kind of neutralized him.
“We put a new ball-screen defense in, and it didn’t work. It just didn’t work,” Buonaguro said. “I take the blame for that. I looked at a film, and I thought that they struggled against a certain defense, but I didn’t plan on Gaston hitting every shot.”
Siena wasted little time getting back into it in the second half.
The team with the worst scoring average (56.9 points per game) in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference needed just 6:17 to score 21 points and get within 55-52 on Poole’s three-pointer.
Poole and Rakeem Brookins (18 points) put together a string of threes to get it to 63-62 with 10:04 left.
Siena’s Imoh Silas finished a three-point play to cut it to 74-69 with 2:17 left, but the Saints squandered some good chances.
Poole missed two free throws with 1:44 left, and Brookins appeared to have a clear lane to the basket, but guard Mandell Thomas came out of nowhere to block it, a call that was hotly contested by Buonaguro.
“It was a huge play,” he said. “From my vantage point, I can’t comment on it, but the official said it was a good block. There were three or four big plays. We were right there.”
“That’s a Jordan-esque block, for a guy 6-1, to go do that,” Pecora said. “Then Frazier’s back-tap, which we talk about doing all the time on missed free throws.”
Pecora was referring to the only free throw of eight that Fordham missed in the last 1:19. Jeffrey Short missed the second of two to leave the Rams with a 77-69 lead with 34.9 left, but Siena failed to get the rebound, leading to two free throws by Frazier.
Siena’s previous high scoring total this year was 66 points, in a loss at Maine.
“Most of all, we hit shots today,” Poole said. “With this game, I think we can go into the next one and put up 70, 75 again. It’s just tough when you let up 47 in the first half.”
“It was a somber mood at halftime, but at the same time, it was a confident mood,” Anosike said. “We were down 16 points, we weren’t out of the game. There was really no need to panic, we just needed to run a few things a little better, and we’d have an opportunity to get back in the game. And that’s what we did.”
Anosike 6-12 4-9 16, Bisping 0-0 0-0 0, Hymes 4-10 3-4 14, Brookins 6-11 4-4 18, Poole 7-9 4-6 21, Audu 0-0 0-0 0, Burdine 0-0 0-0 0, Oliver 0-0 0-0 0, Martens 0-1 0-0 0, Silas 2-3 2-5 6. Totals: 25-46 17-28 75.
Gaston 11-17 3-3 25, Canty 0-0 0-0 0, Frazier 5-8 8-8 20, Smith 6-10 0-0 15, Myers 0-0 0-0 0, Leonard 2-4 0-0 4, Short 2-4 1-2 5, Thomas 3-6 0-1 8, Rhoomes 2-4 0-0 4. Totals: 31-53 12-14 81.
Halftime: Fordham 47, Siena 31. Three-point goals: Siena 8-21 (Hymes 3-9, Brookins 2-6, Poole 3-5, Martens 0-1); Fordham 7-15 (Frazier 2-4, Smith 3-6, Short 0-1, Thomas 2-4). Rebounds: Siena 19 (Anosike 6); Fordham 32 (Gaston 8). Assists: Siena 9 (Hymes 5); Fordham 20 (Frazier 10). Total fouls: Siena 19; Manhattan 24. Fouled out: Leonard, Rhoomes, Brookins. Technical fouls: Anosike. Attendance: 2,268.