New Fordham coach Tom Pecora undoubtedly was hoping the cozy confines of Rose Hill Gym, the ancient campus facility, and a sellout crowd would make things uncomfortable for St. John's Saturday. But for the first 35 minutes it was the Red Storm's full court pressure that proved suffocating for much of the game as it ran up a 20-point lead at 62-42 early in the second half.
What transpired from that point had to be far beyond Pecora's wildest dreams when he was snubbed by St. John's last spring before leaving Hofstra to take over a 2-26 Fordham program. The Rams reeled off 16 unanswered points to start a 32-11 run that gave them a 74-73 lead on a layup by Chris Gaston with 6:15 left to play.
But the magic didn't stop there. The teams traded the lead four more times down the stretch before two foul shots by Marvin Dominique with 1:31 left gave the Rams an 82-81 lead and a 14-foot jumper by Brenton Butler with 13.1 seconds left increased it to three points. When Dwight Hardy, who had a career-high 30 points, missed two three-point attempts at the final buzzer, Fordham students stormed the court in delirium to celebrate an improbable 84-81 upset of the Big East team from Queens.
It was the sweetest revenge for Pecora, who had made no secret of his desire to get the St. John's job when it came open, but he didn't receive so much as a phone call, much less an interview. So, he brought freshman recruit Branden Frazier (16 points, 5 assists) with him and took the remaining core of Butler (22 points), Gaston (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Alberto Estwick (20 points, 5 assists) and somehow pulled off an incredible comeback.
St. John's coach Steve Lavin had the team with 10 seniors, but just as they did last year, the Red Storm showed a remarkable ability to squander leads that seem insurmountable. D.J. Kennedy added 16 points and 9 rebounds, and Paris Horne had 14 points. The Red Storm also held a 50-22 margin in points in the paint and a 28-13 edge in points off turnovers. But the Rams buried 12 of 23 three-point shots and simply showed a whole lot more heart.
In the first half, St. John's ran up a 38-18 lead and seemed poised to run off and hide from the Rams. Despite an 11-0 Fordham run at that point, the Johnnies pushed the lead back to 45-33 at halftime.
Right about then, Pecora must have been wishing he could have taken former Hofstra point guard Chaz Williams with him when he left to take the Rams' job last spring. But there was no way Hofstra would let Williams follow Pecora when he chose to transfer.
Pecora needed Butler and Frazier to bring the ball upcourt, but both are really shooting guards and finished the half with four and three fouls, respectively. Somehow, both avoided fouling out while writing the storybook finish.