Ivan Raut broke out for 21 points on seven three-pointers as the freshman from Montenegro led Fordham past LIU Brooklyn for Rams' first win of season. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose of Hoops)
BRONX, NY -- After a one-point loss to Miami University in a season opener where only 54 points were scored, Jeff Neubauer stressed the need to turn the page with a relatively short turnaround coming three days later.
Fortunately for the veteran head coach entering his third season in charge at Fordham, one of his newest rotation pieces helped accomplish the main objective Monday night.
Behind 21 points from freshman Ivan Raut in just the Montenegrin forward's second collegiate game, and Prokop Slanina's 19-point, 11-rebound double-double, the Rams did more than just get back on the horse, they remained on the accelerator all night en route to an 81-68 victory over visiting LIU Brooklyn in the back end of a brief two-game homestand at Rose Hill Gymnasium.
"One of the big concepts in college basketball that's consistent around the country is you've got to be a bounce-back team," Neubauer assessed after Fordham (1-1) led wire-to-wire and connected on 11 of their 24 three-point field goal attempts to erase the aftertaste of Friday's defeat. "It's how you respond, how you learn. We competed on Friday night, but we didn't come out with that win we were hoping for, and for our guys to say 'we're gonna do better on Monday,' we certainly did that."
Following the first points of the game on a three-pointer by Slanina, Raut struck for the first time just 98 seconds into the contest and did not look back, making each of his first seven shots; all from beyond the arc, before finishing 7-of-10 from the floor in an eye-opening outing for both his coach and the opposing bench.
"He's a great shooter, but he also passes the ball," said Neubauer of his promising newcomer, who also added four rebounds and three assists to his final line. "The fact that we can put him out there and he can get rebounds and he can pass, it's really going to help us. I did tell Ivan and the rest of the team that I literally expect him to become one of the best shooters in Fordham basketball history, and tonight, he certainly made believers out of a lot of us."
"I hadn't heard about it too much or seen it in their first game," LIU Brooklyn head coach Derek Kellogg remarked of Raut's prowess from long distance. "Kudos to him going 7-for-10 from the floor, I thought that was the difference in the game. He had some huge plays."
A combination of hot outside shooting and foul trouble on the part of the Blackbirds (0-2) allowed Fordham to open up a 15-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining before halftime. But LIU would respond, going on a 9-1 run through the next two minutes, capitalizing on a technical foul assessed to Neubauer to get within seven points before a Slanina three put the Rams back up by double digits. The visitors soon drew within two possession in the final minutes before the intermission, but Raut's fourth trifecta of the evening made the lead a nine-point cushion that Fordham stretched into a 42-31 advantage they carried into the locker room.
The Rams began the final stanza just as they started the first, unleashing a barrage of treys in a 12-5 run to balloon their lead to 18 points with 15:30 to play in regulation. From there, the Blackbirds would rely on being in the double bonus to creep closer at the free throw line, but Fordham's marksmanship and commitment to defense were ultimately too much to overcome for last year's Northeast Conference regular season runner-up.
"I thought we showed some fight at different junctures and gave ourselves some opportunities," Kellogg, who coached against Fordham for nine years while in the Atlantic 10 Conference at the University of Massachusetts, lamented. "We just didn't take advantage. I thought we missed some open shots, missed a ton of layups. At the start of the second half, we had a layup, missed it, gave up a three and turned it over, which was tough after we had drawn up something that was pretty good."
While LIU attempts to pick up the pieces still in search of their first win under Kellogg, who replaced Jack Perri in the offseason, Fordham heads into their next game against Florida State Friday buoyed by the ability to right the ship in what could have been a wakeup call of sorts after their season-opening setback.
"I think what really happens is good teams learn," Neubauer opined. "If you want to call it a wakeup call, that's fine. Maybe it was for certain guys, I don't know. But I certainly learned a lot about our team, about our personnel. I learned about how we need to practice, and a lot of that came from the experience we had. Our team needs to play. We have to protect our bodies as well, but we have to play."