Early on against Fordham, St. Thomas played as anyone would expect in their third game ever at the Division I level.
Outsizing and outmuscling their opponents, Fordham got off to a very strong start in terms of ball movement, with most possessions comprising of a drive into the lane, followed by an immediate kick out to the open man on the arc. Defensively, Fordham pressed hard to prevent the Tommies from getting many open looks, forcing one shot clock violation, as well as several close calls. Getting into an early flow, the Rams quickly jumped to an 11-6 lead by the first media timeout.
However, coming out of the short break, something in the Tommies offense clicked, and suddenly they were off on a 17-11 run of their own. In that timespan, the Tommies went 7-for-11 from the field, including 2-for-5 from beyond the arc. Defensively, they took a page from Fordham’s own guards by drawing offensive fouls and disrupting Fordham’s momentum. According to Coach Kyle Neptune, STU’s consistent three-point shooting was the toughest challenge his Rams faced on Monday Night. When describing their offense, Neptune frequently described the Tommies as playing at a “Championship Level.”
“Once you see a team shooting over 30 3s a game, that’s scary. That team can beat anybody if they’re making shots,” Neptune said, describing how important threes are in the modern college basketball game. “Threes are really valuable right now in college basketball and they do it as good as anyone I’ve seen period. They’ve got six or seven guys who can make five or six threes in a game.”
St. Thomas would finish the night shooting 11-for-37 from deep, with Anders Nelson leading all scorers on both teams with 29 points.
Luckily for Neptune, his Rams were quickly able to make adjustments to retake the lead by halftime and hold onto it for the rest of the game. In terms of what Neptune did for his team to succeed, the biggest change came in the schemes he ran on the floor. Breaking from the 4-out we’ve seen a lot this season, the Rams spent a decent amount of time with two forwards sharing the floor. Rostyslav Novitskyi looked as confident on the floor as ever, unafraid to go for the quick put back dunk, while Abdou Tsimbila moved with remarkable fluidity in the low post. Both of these big men helped open the floor for Chuba Ohams, who clearly felt more inclined to expand his playing space around the court en route to 12 points. Despite the slight change, Coach Neptune was confident in his team’s ability to adapt.
“I think we’re a versatile team and we can go a few different ways,” Neptune said. “We’ll continue to play different lineups depending on the time, score, foul trouble, who has it going, etc. We don’t mind putting any type of lineup out there as long as we’re defending and rebounding.”
While the Rams never trailed in the second half, St. Thomas continued to knock at the door. Hot hands, as well as short bursts of intensity both defensively and on the glass allowed the Tommies to get as close as tying the game early in the second half. However, every Tommies burst was followed by a Fordham response, with each one led by a different veteran Ram. Josh Colon followed up a three point shot with a steal, Antonio Daye muscled his way into a jump ball, and of course, Kyle Rose was a major threat from deep all game.
“I think the thing that Kyle brings more than his shooting is his defensive intensity and his intangibles,” Neptune explained. “He plays so hard, and he’s also one of our most intelligent guys. You have all those things, and he’s worked himself into becoming a good shooter as well.”
While there were plenty of things Coach Neptune felt his guys could work on, such as maintaining intensity for 40 minutes, Monday night’s win was a major step forward for this team and Fordham Men’s basketball as a whole. By playing unselfish basketball, Neptune’s Rams were able to build on the strong sense of cohesion that he thinks will take this team to new heights.
“We weren’t perfect, but we were in it the whole way together.”
Fordham will take on Maryland Eastern Shore at home on Friday.