Knowing the feeling of eight straight losing has Fordham fully enjoying a taste of being a winner again.
The Rams men’s basketball team used a suffocating man-to-man defense and a big game from Ryan Rhoomes to pound St. John’s 73-57 in front of an energized crowd sellout crowd of 3,068 at Rose Hill Gymnasium on Wednesday night. Fordham never trailed in the game.
It is the Ram’s fifth straight victory of the season under first-year coach Jeff Neubauer after opening with a loss to UT Arlington. It is the program’s first five-game winning streak since it did it twice in 2006-07 under coach Dereck Whittenberg in its last winning season. Fordham last beat SJU in 2010.
“It’s been fun,” said senior forward Ryan Rhoomes. “It finally feels good to be a Ram.”
Rhoomes scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, including nine offensive. He used his 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame to bully his way to the hoop and made life tough on St. John’s guards when they attacked the rim. It is the result of hard work and a new found confidence Fordham is playing with.
“We are more of a team,” Rhoomes said. “We have a system. We play defense. It feels like a real good basketball team right now.”
Fordham (5-1) forced 19 Red Storm turnovers and scored 24 second-chance points. It took control of the game with a 19-4 run in the first half, in which Fordham thoroughly outplayed a cold-shooting St. John’s team.
Senior guard Mandell Thomas (14 points) sparked the game-changing spurt with three consecutive three-pointers to make it 25-17 with 8:23 to go. Two free throws by Jon Severe (14-points) capped the run and put Fordham ahead 35-19 with 3:14 to play before the break.
“He’s as good an offensive player as I’ve ever coached,” Neubauer said of Thomas.
Fordham’s trapping defense forced the ball out of the hands of Federico Mussini, the Red Storm’s point guard and leading scorer. The Rams front line helped hold Yankuba Sima, SJU’s best big, scoreless. Felix Balamou led St. John’s with 14 points and Christian Jones had 11.
“We felt like Mussini was the key to their team,” Neubauer said. “He’s the leading score. Second of all he takes the most shots. Third of all he has the most assists.”
St. John’s (4-3) quietly pulled within 53-41 on a two Ron Mvouika free throws with 10:57 to play in the game. Again it was Thomas who swung the momentum back Fordham’s way. This time it was with a one-handed slam on a defender along the baseline. Severe followed with a three that put the Rams back up 17.
Fordham, which also own a win over Bronx rival Manhattan, host Central Connecticut State on Saturday before welcoming Long Island University to Rose Hill on Dec. 8.
“This is our first December game and your team is better than it was two weeks ago,” Neubauer said. “Hopefully we can make another stride tomorrow morning.”