BRONX, N.Y. — Perception is defined as a mental image. A person’s perception of another is extremely difficult to change, just ask Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds as they are on the outside, looking in at the Hall of Fame.
Fordham basketball has the perception of being one of, if not the weakest team in the competitive Atlantic 10 Conference. But slowly, perhaps even at a snail’s pace, this Rams squad is improving.
And after winning their conference opener for the first time since 2005 with a 82-75 victory over Duquesne at Rose Hill Gym, the perception may be next in line to change.
“What we have to do is move ourselves into the pack in the conference and gain some more respect,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said after his team’s victory. “We’re still perceived one way in this league and the only way to change that is to win games.”
And these Rams (5-11, 1-0) are surely going to make some noise in Atlantic 10 play. Even though the final score may have been close, a deeper look inside the numbers showed how Fordham dominated.
The young and undersized Dukes (7-8, 0-1) stood no chance against the bigger Rams. Fordham controlled the paint from the opening tip, and Duquesne showed no resistance in fighting them off.
Controlling the glass by a 49 to 34 margin, including 14 offensive rebounds, gave the Rams easy opportunities to put the ball in the net.
In perhaps their best shooting display of the season, the Rams shot a blistering 53 percent from the game, no doubt helped by their 44 points in the paint.
“They just bullied us,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said after his team was physically outmatched. “Just pounded us inside and pounded us on the glass. For us to even have a chance to win, we have to rebound and we couldn’t do that.”
And bullying opponents is exactly what these Rams can do to other opponents. Entering the game versus the Dukes, Fordham was ranked No. 8 in the A-10 Conference in rebounding margin.
How is that possible?
Because of the amount of talented bigs they have on their roster.
While Chris Gaston gets most of the attention, deservedly so after a 9-for-12 shooting performance for 18 points and 10 rebounds, but it’s others that have made the difference.
Another freshman, Ryan Rhoomes, made his presence felt with a seven-point, seven-rebound effort.
“We had a great presence inside,” Pecora said of his young but talented front court. “It was a total team effort. But we were able to dominate inside which was one of our goals.”
And while Fordham won’t dominate many opponents this season, they are being led by a player that can lead his team to victory on any given night.
That player’s name is Branden Frazier and his transformation over his three seasons in the Bronx has been impressive. Just like his team, Frazier has shed perceptions of his game.
Heading into this season Frazier was seen as an offensive-minded player, one that only looked for his shot and he didn’t need to look long as he never met a shot he didn’t like.
But that has since changed.
Frazier is now a floor general for this young Rams team and his maturation is evidenced by his stat line of 13 assists to just one turnover.
“Branden has always been a leader since he got here,” Gaston said of his teammate. “He’s a great floor general. He’s always telling guys what to do and where to go during games and it makes my job that much easier.”
Gaston is right.
Frazier’s ability to not only score — he has 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting against Duquesne — but to make the right decisions makes Fordham extremely dangerous, especially at home.
“It’s our time now,” Gaston said after the game. “It’s our time to start showing people that we are a great basketball program, a great basketball team and we’re going to start to get wins against these teams.”
Pecora has completed a reclamation job before — most recently as coach of Hofstra where he took them to the NIT and earned the school’s first two postseason wins at the Division I level — and he’s doing it again.
“I went into the locker room and told the guys, ‘hey, we’re in first place in the Atlantic 10,” he said after his team’s victory.
Perceptions are tough to change, but all Fordham has to do is take a look at Frazier to see how quickly they can. A few more wins and maybe others will also believe that it’s the Rams’ time as well.
Ryan Lazo can be reached on Twitter @RMLazo13