Fordham Basketball
Fordham Basketball

Again, up on Rose Hill, the optimism is running wild for the exciting Fordham Rams men’s basketball program this season. 

Rich Mancuso

Perhaps this will be the season the Fordham Rams make an impact in the Atlantic 10 Basketball Conference. Every November, they tip-off with optimism and there always seems to be hope they will make strides and become one of the elite teams in March.

Jeff Neubauer is the coach with optimism. The previous four years have started with optimism and concluded with going home early in March. The Rams have not been good at taking that next step in March.

The Atlantic 10 Conference has become one of the elite. Many say Fordham is out of their league and can’t compete with the big boys when it comes to recruitment and getting that talent to take them further in March.

Don’t blame Neubauer. He is not a quitter and continues to relay a message that Fordham basketball will get there. He works hard and when March is over, begins the process for the next year.

With a sparse crowd at the Rose Hill Gym Tuesday night, partly attributed to a late start after the women’s team lost to ranked Notre Dame, the process started with goals to go further in March.

The Rams responded in their season opener with a come-from-behind 69-59 win over St. Francis of Brooklyn. A good start and a long way to go before the A-10 Tournament in March at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

There were mistakes; there always are errors as a team begins to respond and find out what has to be done in that first game. There were the freshmen responding and 12 returning players, which is more than the other 13 teams in the conference.

Fordham overcame a 13-point deficit in the second half. They shot from the inside and went more to the outside in the second half.

Oh, they responded. And they won the first game without Nick Honor. The highly-touted recruit and leading scorer as a freshman transferred to Clemson.

“The way we phrase it, we have 12 guys back from last year,” Neubauer said. “Look around the A-10; you may find that teams lost six-seven guys to transfer, so we do have an experienced team. Our job is to attack the rim something  we did not do well last year.”

Fordham prevented the Terriers from getting to the basket. They attacked and turned it around with defense in that second half. This wasn’t a conference game when those A-10 opponents come to Rose Hill in January as the schedule begins to heat up.

But they played that second half as if they were ready for March.

Ivan Grant, the junior guard poured in 15 points. Two of his 3-pointers turned it around as Fordham went on a 16-4 run in that second half. Chuba Ohams, the junior forward, had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Antwon Portley added 14 points.

And a senior, Erten Gazi, came off the bench and scored 11.

Last season. Portley was turning it around as the Rams made a push in March before an early elimination in the A-10 tournament. This win was all about contributions from all over.

“So many guys gave us real contributions,’ said Neubauer. “We had leadership from our veterans. They have been through something like this before. They got some resolve. They’ve got some toughness. They got some experience to fall back on.’

Last season, the Rams had similar situations. Many times, similarly to Tuesday night, they battled back. This time it was different, as they finished the job.

They lost many games like this last year, but also won a few.

“The problem, we were in a bunch of them,’ said the coach.”If  you look at how many games we lost by three last year, it’s more than most teams lose by three in a decade, so I do think all those experiences from last year helped.”

Returning players do make a difference and that was evident Tuesday night, but this was not against the likes of Davidson, Richmond and Dayton. Those three conference teams are ranked 25th in preseason polls and Fordham will confront them in January.

But this was a good start. And these first few games with FDU and Marist will be a good test for Fordham to get ready for those conference games.

“If we can hold teams to four offensive rebounds,” said Neubauer.

The Rams did that Tuesday night. That can’t be expected each time. It’s just too difficult to hold down opponents down in the A-10, but this was a good start, and perhaps this March will not come to an abrupt conclusion.