Thursday, December 8, 2016

St. John's 90, Fordham 62: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer's opening statement:
"I thought St. John's played as well as I've seen them play. They've played a tough schedule, meaning the games against Michigan State, Old Dominion and VCU, and watching the video in all those games, they played those high-level teams really, really tough. They didn't win any of them, but you could tell they had the makings of something. Their top four guards are all shooting over 40 percent from three and they did it again today, and their shot blocking really made a difference with ten blocks. We had a tough time getting anything to the rim."

On whether St. John's came out with more energy after losing to Fordham last year:
"I think this is to be expected in college basketball every night. You only get 31 games, so we expected them to play great. I thought even at halftime, when we were down nine, I thought we were in a good spot, but give St. John's credit. They continued to play at a high level. I didn't feel bad about our first half, but it did get away from us there in the second."

On whether St. John's 23-5 run was the turning point:
"What they did in the first half was expected, meaning they made some shots. They're very good shooters, they had a good plan attacking our defense. Their value for the ball was pretty darn good. When they continued to do that in the second half, that's where we've usually been able to turn people over. Even if they've handled it for a half, our second half defense has usually improved."

On the continued improvement of Will Tavares:
"That's going to be the story of our season, our improvement. We've got guys who are getting better. Prokop Slanina made a big step tonight, this was his first start, he made a few threes; Will Tavares, a great effort, maybe his best game. Our guards in general did not play very well, and a lot of the credit probably goes to Shamorie Ponds. We saw him play in AAU, we thought he was terrific. He's much better than that."

On St. John's improvement from the floor in the second half:
"The percentage doesn't bother us, but the fact that they only turned it over 16 times, that's the problem. We give up a high percentage every night and that's part of our defensive philosophy, however, we usually come away with a lot more steals."

Nuggets of Note:
- Back in the starting lineup after an elbow injury cost him the second half against Sacred Heart and the entire Harvard game, Joseph Chartouny went scoreless Thursday night, missing all seven shots he attempted. The sophomore point guard did do a decent job of getting his teammates involved in the first half, registering six assists and seven rebounds on the night overall. Fordham will need his facilitating skills against Manhattan on Saturday, but against the likes of Zavier Turner, Chartouny's scoring ability will be of greater importance when they take the floor at Draddy Gymnasium.

- Fordham's offense is sorely lacking without Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes, a pair of graduated seniors the Rams may miss more than they will admit. While Thomas' transition to the professional ranks has been mitigated by Chartouny, Javontae Hawkins and Will Tavares, the interior presence Rhoomes commanded mightily has disappeared, and was a huge difference in St. John's posting a plus-20 rebounding margin on a smaller Ram lineup. Neubauer heralded the play of Prokop Slanina (nine points in his first career start) and Christian Sengfelder accounted for 20 points to lead Fordham on the scoreboard, but the fact remains that the lack of a big body under the rim will lead to a long season in Atlantic 10 play, which may very well see teams such as La Salle and even George Mason make significant jumps from the bottom of the league into the middle.

- Speaking of Will Tavares, the sophomore was perhaps the brightest light in the Fordham galaxy Thursday night. The 6-foot-5 wing scored 14 points in 21 minutes, demonstrating what he could do long-term as he takes on a greater role in the Ram offense. A slasher with an ability to drive the lane and attack the basket offensively, complemented by a ballhawk mentality on the defensive end, Tavares is very reminiscent of a young Fuquan Edwin, who excelled in a similar role for four years at Seton Hall. It will be intriguing to monitor his progress and reassess how far he has come at the end of the season.

- During the game, I received a tweet from VCU radio color analyst and brilliant basketball mind Michael Litos, who stated that former Fordham coach Tom Pecora "would never lose that game." With all due respect, it has nothing to do with the coach. On this night, Fordham was simply outplayed by better athletes who were able to adapt to the Rams' pace and style and merely beat them at their own game. Sometimes, it happens. The key for Neubauer will be to learn from what went wrong here, which in this case is twofold: Guarding the three-point line better, as St. John's went 15-for-31 from beyond the arc, and attacking 50-50 balls to get a better feel for rebounding.

- Finally, as Fordham heads into Saturday's Battle of the Bronx at 5-5 on the year, their annual meeting with Manhattan is not so much a must-win game as it is an accurate gauge on exactly where this team is heading into non-conference play. The Rams still have two more non-league games after Saturday, first against Rutgers in the Holiday Festival before hosting Central Connecticut State in what is; at least on paper, an opportunity for the Rams to head into the A-10 slate on a winning note. For Fordham, facing Manhattan's defense will help them get a better feel for where they can improve on that side of the ball, and the challenge of guarding a tall Jasper lineup that features three players taller than 6-foot-8 will be a welcome test going against stronger and more physically imposing A-10 front lines.

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