Though pleased with effort in loss to East Tennessee State Wednesday, Jeff Neubauer reaffirmed that defense is most integral part of Fordham's success. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
BRONX, NY -- Since replacing Tom Pecora three years ago, Jeff Neubauer has instilled a stark contrast in philosophy to that of his predecessor.
Gone is the perpetual moving screen and endless dribbling through the lane, replaced instead by a perimeter-oriented offensive game and frenetic system that thrives on creating turnovers while stressing the importance of taking care of the basketball. And in the two-plus seasons in which Fordham has practiced it, the results have come in droves, but the early gratification does not eliminate the need for improvement.
The Rams have placed in the top ten of the nation in both defensive turnover rate and steal percentage in each of Neubauer's first two campaigns, and are on track to do the same again this year, actually leading the country by causing thefts on 17.3 percent of opposing team possessions, as ranked by Ken Pomeroy. And after Wednesday's 82-77 loss to an East Tennessee State team that smoked Fordham by 37 points in last year's season opener, the glaring necessity to turn a great outfit into an exceptional one was uncovered by the visiting Buccaneers shooting 59 percent from the floor en route to their fourth win of the season.
"Our team has got to be a defensive team," Neubauer reiterated as his Rams dropped to 2-4 on the young season, losing the second in a five-game homestand that continues when Maine visits Rose Hill Gymnasium on Saturday. "The way for us to win is with defense."
"They simply took us one-on-one," he continued, highlighting ETSU's decided athleticism edge, which was exploited in the form of guards Desonta Bradford (22 points, nine rebounds) and Bo Hodges (20 points, eight rebounds) flirting with double-doubles for a victorious Buccaneer outfit that manhandled the Rams to the tune of a 34-20 rebounding margin. "Steve Forbes is a terrific coach, and his players simply drove it to wherever they wanted to go, and rose up and made jump shots. We even tried playing zone and we weren't able to guard the ball in the zone either."
The 82 points given up Wednesday night topped the 68 served to LIU Brooklyn on November 13 as the highest point total yielded by the Rams this season, but with Maine, Harvard and St. Francis Brooklyn; all of whom present struggling offenses that Fordham should be able to dictate terms and tempo against, the emphasis on needing to maintain what has helped begin a culture change appreciated in value as a momentum-building spate of games ensues.
"If we wanted to find glasses half-full or silver linings, we just lost to a really good team by five points," said Neubauer. "However, as we try to define it for our players, there just needs to be an understanding that we've got to be better one-on-one defensively."