Fordham rides strong start into Atlantic-10 play

Expectations weren’t high for Fordham University coming off a 10-win season after which Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year, and last season’s leading scorer, Eric Paschall transferred to Villanova. It took just 11 games for that to change for this year’s group.

Under new head coach Jeff Neubauer, the Rams won nine of their first 11 games, the best start for Fordham since the 1970-71 squad won its first 12 games under Digger Phelps.

Fordham won’t head into conference play off a victory as it saw its nine-game winning streak snapped by a 64-55 loss to Boston College at the Barclays Center on Dec. 22. It remains to be seen if the overall fast start will continue against better competition.

“If we’re going to do a cup is half full, then definitely that our defense today was good enough to win this game,” Neubauer said. “And I certainly take all of the blame for our offense not being very good, but defensively we’re ready to compete with this level team. I’ve got to get some things right on the offensive end.”

There’s a different feeling around the program, which has only produced one winning season since 1992. It started after Tom Pecora was fired after five seasons as coach and a 44-106 record and Neubauer, who won 188 games in 10 seasons at Eastern Kentucky, was hired.

The new coach hasn’t had trouble relating to the current rosters. Fordham’s tenacious defense has only allowed 65 points in a game twice.

“We are more of a team,” Rhoomes said after a win over St. John’s. “We have a system. We play defense. It feels like a real good basketball team right now.”

Neubauer employs a lot of aggressive pressing and trapping on defense. The Rams have also improved at the other end.

Through 10 games, Fordham had the best shooting percentage in the Atlantic-10. The Rams have also connected on 40 percent of their threes as opposed to 30.5 percent last season.

“He’s a done a phenomenal, phenomenal job in a short time with that program,” said Boston College coach Jim Christian. “They play a very unique style of play that you have to be prepared for and it’s probably unlike anybody on your schedule.”

The Rams have a balanced attack, led by senior guard Mandell Thomas.Rhoomes is leading the nation in field goal percentage. Jon Severe and Chris Sengfelder are averaging double-digit points. Joseph Chartouny is tops on the team in assists.

Thomas was part of three losing seasons, including a 7-24 campaign as a freshman. Although eight of the nine Fordham wins have come by 16 points or more, it was the close one which might be the biggest.

The Rams pulled out a come from behind victory against LIU Brooklyn, which was the seventh win in the string of nine. It showed Fordham expects to win now.

“I’m not really a person of too many words, so I don’t say too much but just stick together,” Thomas said after Fordham beat the Blackbirds in overtime on December 8. “We’ve been in some situations like this before but I don’t know if we had been able to pull them out in previous years so this year is different.”

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