For the first time at Rose Hill Gym this season under first year head coach Jeff Neubauer, Fordham trailed in a game.
Manhattan led by as many as three through the first 12 minutes of the game, but the Rams managed to go on a 9-1 run to swipe the lead back from the Jaspers, capped by a left corner three-pointer by Chris Sengfelder to go up six. In the final minute, Antoine Anderson went over the top of the Manhattan 2-3 zone, receiving a pass from Nemanja Zarkovic and threw down a two-hand alley-oop slam and on the next possession grabbed an offensive rebound and made a 12-foot jumper to send the Rams into the break with a nine-point lead.
From there, Fordham put together a 9-0 run early in the second half to give them some distance and managed a 87-64 victory to pick up the Battle of the Bronx crown. However, first year head coach Jeff Neubauer was very muted about the perceived rivalry game.
“From my perspective, there really was no lead up to it,” Neubauer said. “I don’t know, what I mean, I haven’t been interviewed by any TV station, so there’s been absolutely zero lead up and Rose Hill Gym was not sold out. So I’ve been a part of bigger rivalries than this.”
Senior Mandell Thomas scored 26 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists and also picked up the Mike Cohen MVP award. Senior Ryan Rhoomes almost outdid his classmate, scoring 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and registering a career-high six blocks in the effort. The Rams have now won four games in a row, which is a first for the program since the 2009-10 season.
Here are three thoughts from the Rams’ victory, as they head into their annual showdown at St. John’s 4-1.
Rams still finding their offensive footing – Many teams would love to have the first half the Rams did, just from a pure shooting percentage standpoint. Fordham made 68% of their shots in the first half, draining five three-pointers and scoring better than a point per possession in the first 20 minutes. However, those 17 field goals made came with a cost.
“We turned it over way too many times, we had 14 turnovers and that’s not who we are,” Neubauer said. “In the 2nd half we played more like who we’ve been and who we’re going be.”
The Rams got plenty of easy baskets and even though they made just 46.7% of their field goals in the second half, they turned the ball over only five times. They managed to get almost every post entry pass in with precision in the second half, which helped lead to Rhoomes’ 10 points and five offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes. Also on the bright side, five Rams scored double-digit points in the effort, the only starter not hitting the mark was Jon Severe. Yet the 6’2” guard played as aggressive as he could have, running into two fouls early in the first half, but it was his presence defensively that helped hurt the Jaspers.
“I thought he really played well in the second half, he’s the one starter that didn’t have double-figures, but he was making the right pass over and over, whether it was into the post or driving, or sharing with a teammate,” Neubauer said of Severe, who finished with four points. “Our guys are playing the right way and we have a long long way to go. I mean our defense is going to get better, but our guys are doing a lot of good things.”
Neubauer focused on Fordham – Even after beating Colgate and totaling 84 points, Neubauer was emphatic that he is still exploring how his team is going to be built this season. On Saturday that could not have been clearer, even in a rivalry game.
The first year head coach could be seen as late as the game’s final two minutes yelling from afar, wanting a rebound that his team did not get. He briefly pulled Chris Sengfelder and Ryan Rhoomes with a few minutes to go, only to put them back in after their replacements made a mistake seconds later. The Rams keyed in on Manhattan senior Shane Richards on the defensive end, he managed to get three second half shots. Richards battled through screens to find any looks, and when he did he missed. He scored just one second half point and when it’s not keying a shooter, like Tuesday’s win over Colgate when they keyed on a point guard, they are building their defense one step at a time.
“That is part of the learning process is tweaking your game plan every game,” Neubauer said. “However to me you’re right, it’s more about that rebound we didn’t get with 1:47 left, where I mean; that’s got to be our rebound.”
Yet the Rams did run into a situation they weren’t prepared for, when Zane Waterman ended up fouling Thomas with what turned into a flagrant 2 foul. In the process, four Rams players came off the bench, which after review resulted in the ejection of Zarkovic who came off the bench at the time of the scuffle.
“Our team was level headed after the incident and the rule is that only the head coach can leave the bench,” Neubauer said. “So I obviously did not do a good job preparing our team for that situation. I thought the officials did handle it very well, but we had 4 guys ejected and I’ve got to a better job coaching our team.”
Four for Fordham – The Rams have now won four in a row, which can’t be understated. Neubauer said that he wanted his team to experience winning, his seniors had not yet proven to be winners and he built this schedule so his program could be set up for success. It has, so far, followed to form and Thomas, who delivered a season-high 26 points, got to experience winning four in a row for the first time in his career on Saturday.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Thomas said. “It’s been a while since Fordham won four straight, so I’m looking forward to St John’s; another big team we’re playing against on Wednesday. Hopefully we get another W.”
While it will be a tall task to take on the Big East foe, and St. John’s will have plenty to play for as they play a road game at Rose Hill Gym. They will also get Kassoum Yakwe on the court for the first time when the two teams meet, yet bragging rights will be on the line as the Rams try to do another thing Thomas and his senior class haven’t accomplished yet.
“I think it would be a big statement,” Thomas said if they were to beat St. John’s after beating Manhattan. “We’re all in New York City, we’re trying to take over New York City as well, but we got more games after that. We have to continue to strive to beat other teams as well, can’t just focus on those two teams, but you get those two wins and I think it’ll be good.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.