“We didn’t understand basketball very well today.”
This was Head Coach Jeff Neubauer’s conclusion to the root of Fordham Basketball’s shot selection in their Tuesday afternoon season opener. While this may seem like the overly harsh words of a coach trying to put some fire under the seats of his players, the 71-47 loss to a struggling George Washington team shows that his answer was an accurate description.
From tip-off to the final buzzer, George Washington outplayed Fordham in nearly every aspect of the game, perhaps in order to take out the frustration of losing three top players in the span of five days on the unsuspecting Rams.
While Fordham was ranked at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 in the preseason poll, this loss still left a bad taste in the mouth of both Fordham fans and team personnel.
So what went wrong?
A Lack of Identity
Non-conference play serves two major purposes; to get a few good-looking wins on your record before conference play, and to flesh out your team as a cohesive unit. After multiple quarantines leading to game and practice cancellations, Fordham didn’t have time to do either, and it showed.
On almost every possession, it seemed like the Rams wanted to execute a play, but just couldn’t get the pieces in the right order to make it work, often resulting in several passes around the three-point line before being dumped to a double-teamed Joel Soriano down low.
According to Coach Neubauer, these plays were botched simply because his players were rushing.
“We shot it so quickly sometimes that there was no time for an assist,” Neubauer said. “When we did make good [shot] decisions, we couldn’t connect.”
It didn’t help either that the Colonials had a strong height advantage over Fordham. At several points, 5’11” Josh Navarro was being guarded by 6’9” Chase Paar. Not ideal if you’re trying to run a small ball offense.
When looking at the stat sheet, it doesn’t even look like Fordham wasn’t doing exactly what they were supposed to do; they forced the turnovers, they drew the charges, they led the fast breaks. What it really came down to was their inability to make a shot. GW, one of the worst ranked defenses in the country, seemed to have the Rams under complete control, allowing them to run their plays and forcing pressure at exactly the right moment and prevent a shot from connecting.
On the defensive side of the ball, that size mismatch prevented Fordham from subduing GW’s pick-and-roll throughout the first half. They turned up the intensity in the second half by forcing a solid amount of turnovers, but by that point, the damage had been done, and the Colonials finished the afternoon shooting 50% from the field, with Jamison Battle and James Bishop scoring 24 and 23 respectively.
Despite the loss, Coach Neubauer had plenty of positive takeaways from his team’s season opener. Following the game, Neubauer was happy with Joel Soriano’s performance, scoring half of Fordham’s 24 points in the paint.
“Joel is certainly one of our brighter spots,” Neubauer said. “His improvement has been massive. He is certainly one of the cornerstones we have been building around. He will tell you he could play a lot better, and he is going to be a lot better.”
In terms of the two freshmen that made their debut, Yame Butler and Julian Dozier, Coach Neubauer praised their ability to perform after so little time to get good practices in and with no non-conference schedule. However, he made note that they needed to take this loss as both a learning experience and a motivator for the rest of the season, a sentiment that he extended to the whole team.
“There are two sides to every coin. There’s heads, and that side [says] I’m really proud of our team for their decision to play today. I told them that. No one is going to stand here on our coaching staff and criticize our guys for what they’ve been through and [for] playing. We’re proud of their choice. The tails side is, as a team and as a program, we’re not gonna settle for what that was today. We have to make some major strides tomorrow. There are no excuses in competition. We’ve got to make some major adjustments, and they have to be made tomorrow.”