BRONX, N.Y. – Every loss counts the same in the standings, obviously, but Wednesday night’s 76-72 defeat in overtime to St. Bonaventure is going to sting a little longer than some of the others for Fordham.
The Rams (12-10, 3-8), even without leading scorer Mandell Thomas (injury), did plenty right, forcing the normally sure-handed Bonnies (16-6, 8-3) into 17 turnovers and getting 10 steals in the process. They stormed back from 10 down wih 12 minutes left against a team that has hopes (faint ones at the moment, but growing) of stealing an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, and did it the way Jeff Neubauer wanted to play when he came to Fordham: creating bad decisions from the opponent through pressure defense, and making an extra pass to get an open look (and then knocking it down) at the other.
And, what might have been a giant leap forward was certainly there for the taking at the end. Fordham led by four late, 66-62, but did not score in the final 3:09 of regulation, which included two missed free throws from Ryan Rhoomes (who otherwise had a fabulous night with 23 points on 10-13 FG, with 9 rebounds and no turnovers). With the last possession in a tie game, the play Neubauer drew up never developed and a highly contested Antwoine Anderson 17-footer was short.
Ooooooverrtime, Fordham misses: pic.twitter.com/wxXF03KVBj
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) February 11, 2016
In overtime, Fordham again took a lead, 72-69, this time with 2:04 left. Again, the Rams did not score the rest of the way, with the Bonnies picking up five free throws and a clutch jumper from Idris Taqqee that came with St. Bonaventure leading 73-72 and 18 seconds left. Joseph Chartouny (who also had a great night with 15 points, 11 assists, and 4 steals) had a three to tie it, but it was way short, and the Bonnies had escaped.
A video posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on
“This is the first time that we have pushed one of the elite teams in our conference/country to an end-of-game situation, and we’ve probably played eight teams like this, teams that are top 100 teams,” Neubauer said. “We’ve had some good stretches in some of those games, but we’ve never pushed them this far. I think this is something we can build on going forward.”
Chances to beat Atlantic 10 teams with winning records have been far and few between in the past few years at Rose Hill (or anywhere for Fordham, really), but there were obviously some positives to the performance, like the fact that they were in the game in the first place, something the Rams haven’t always been this season and didn’t appear to be headed toward down double digits midway through the second half.
“I thought their defense gave us problems at times,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “That chaotic, running, trapping that they do, it’s almost like you have to make plays against them. We made some plays, but other times we turned the ball over. Seventeen times, that’s not very good. But I thought we made the plays when we needed to make the plays and that pushed us through.”
Fordham also has a fairly favorable schedule the rest of the way, and performances like this (particularly if Thomas returns, although his right foot was in a boot Wednesday) should give them confidence going forward.
But in the end, it’s another loss that pushes Fordham one step closer to having to play once again on the first Wednesday of the Atlantic 10 Tournament (four weeks from tonight) in Brooklyn.
What else did we learn at Rose Hill?:
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1) Being in New York can be tough
If you’ve been to Fordham games over the years, you know this, and I think Jeff Neubauer is starting to figure out how difficult that can be in trying to turn things around. The weeknight crowd was probably 60-40 in favor of St. Bonaventure, who had great fans, but is not known as a team that travels everywhere in droves. And it’s not like Olean is next door, it’s a good five-hour drive just south of Buffalo from New York City.
But almost all Atlantic 10 teams have plenty of alumni in New York, and it’s their chance to see their alma mater play (one of the reasons Fordham is in the league in the first place). Fordham had a good crowd by its standards of the last few seasons, but it’s going to continue to be tough to have a partisan crowd at Rose Hill for a while against schools that can circle the New York City date on their calendars.
“I do think that’s one of the neat things about being here in New York City is that when people play here they bring people,” Neubauer said. “Dayton had a great crowd here. St. Joe’s had a great crowd and now St. Bonaventure. That’s pretty unique. There’s a lot of people in New York and they cheer for a lot of different teams.”
2) With Thomas out, Fordham can look at the future
Rhoomes was Fordham’s best player, and as has been discussed before here, will be difficult to replace because of his size and ability to compete in the post at an A-10 level. To truly be competitive (although Bob McKillop may beg to differ), that is the piece he is going to add to his returners. But point guard Chartouny (although he had a couple of ill-advised shots) showed a lot of guts and savvy. At one point, he threw up an airball early in the shot clock, but when the ball came to him on the next possession, he didn’t hesitate, drilling a straight away three-pointer that brought the Rams to within 57-54 at a key juncture late in the second half.
Neubaeur was a bit disappointed in the offensive effort of Christian Sangfelder (4 pts., 2-7 FG) and Anderson (7 pts., 3-9 FG), but he loved their defense in the second half. David Pekarek (whom Mark Schmidt called PECK-a-wreck afterward, although he was complimenting him) had 19 points and hit a couple of what looked like difficult three-pointers over defenders.
In the end, St. Bonaventure still finished at 1.09 points per possession, even with the 17 turnovers (24.3% rate, well above its season average of 16.8%, 73rd nationally), which should/could have been enough, as the Bonnies entered second in the A-10 in offensive efficiency (1.141 ppp adjusted) coming in.
“We always talk about that we’re competitors,” Neubauer said. “We’re certainly going to try to find a positive in every situation and encourage our guys, but at the end of the day, we didn’t win the game. We did play against one of the best 60 teams in the country. They have terrific guards and have as good a backcourt as any team in the nation and we forced them into 17 turnovers and had 10 steals. So our effort was great, we played really hard. We have to work on some of the rest.”
Said Schmidt: “They play a unique style. As you saw, they’re trapping anything. You can’t really run anything, you just have to space it out and make plays. Those kids are playing extremely hard, and to me, that’s a sign of a good coach.”
3) St. Bonaventure keeps on trudging along
Schmidt has really done an excellent job at St. Bonaventure (long-time NEC fans will remember him from his pretty lengthy stint at Robert Morris as well), building a consistently competitive team in a conference with the Daytons, VCUs, and George Washingtons of the world (and St. Joseph’s, certainly this season). They don’t do anything spectacular, and are built almost solely around three players (all of which are averaging 36 minutes per game or more this season): forward Dion Wright and guards Marcus Posley and Jaylen Adams. On Wednesday, Wright and Posley (who you may remember from hitting his share of big shots last season) had 21 each, while Adams had 11. Adams also had 9 assists and Posley 6, but they combined for 13 turnovers, a number that will make Neubauer gleeful, but also pondering how Fordham didn’t pull this one off.
Just as this game can be looked at as half-full or half-empty for Fordham, the rise of St. Bonaventure can be that way for the Atlantic 10 this season. They are certainly a great story and Schmidt (once again) deserves a long, hard look for Coach of the Year if they finish anywhere near the top four. But the fact that a team with a relatively unimpressive non-conference slate (biggest win: at Buffalo?), and no depth at all (only 6 players played more than 5 minutes Wednesday, and with the exception of 1 minute, only 8 people have appeared in Atlantic 10 play) is a kind of indictment on the league as a whole, as the Atlantic 10 struggles to get anyone not named Dayton into solid NCAA Tournament position.
To be fair, they are 29th nationally in adjusted offense and Adams has some of the best offensive KenPom numbers (as well as three-point shooting) in the conference. But they are 339th in bench minutes and 303rd in average height.
“We’re finding ways to win, and that’s a credit to our players and their character and mental toughness,” Schmidt said. “Give Fordham credit, too, they played extremely hard and made it very tough on us. But we’ve been making the plays all season.”
It’s also another reason why Fordham wanted this game so bad, this might be the year to rack up some wins before other programs reload. Or maybe not.