By Joseph Staszewski
There will be a lot of firsts for coach Chris Mullin and his young St. John’s team this season. There won’t be any fond memories to his first trip back to Fordham University and many of the players’ first true college road game with the Red Storm.
The Rams men’s basketball team used a suffocating man-to-man defense and a big game from Ryan Rhoomes to pound St. John’s 73-57 in front of an energized crowd sellout crowd at Rose Hill Wednesday night. The Red Storm never led in the game and trailed 41-25 at the half.
“A lot of nights it is going to be tough,” Mullin said. “These guys are young, inexperienced and going through a lot of these first time experience.”
Fordham senior forward Ryan Rhoomes scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, including nine offensive. He used his 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame to bully his way to the hoop and made life tough on St. John’s guards when they attacked the rim.
First-year Fordham coach Jeff Neubauer understands veteran players like Rhoomes makes the situation he took over in the Bronx much different that what Mullin was handed at SJU.
“When I got her to Fordham we inherited some really talented experienced players and St. John’s has a whole knew team,” Neubauer said.
Fordham (5-1) forced 19 Red Storm turnovers and scored 24 second-chance points. It took control of the game with a 19-4 in the first half, in which Fordham thoroughly out played a cold-shooting St. John’s team. The Red Storm made just two 3-pointers, while the Rams connected on seven.
“We just didn’t play with a lot of energy,” senior guard Felix Balamou said.
Senior guard Mandell Thomas (14 points) sparked the game-changing spurt with three consecutive three-pointers to make it 25-17 with 8:23 to go. Two free throws by Jon Severe (14-points) capped the run and put Fordham ahead 35-19 with 3:14 to play before the break.
“They seemed more experienced,” Mullin said. “They played a great game. They played with force. They got all the 50/50 ball. Most of the hustle plays they made.”
Fordham’s trapping defense took the ball out of the hands of Federico Mussini, the Red Storm’s point guard and leading scorer. The Rams front line helped hold Yankuba Sima, SJU’s best forward, scoreless. Felix Balamou led St. John’s with 14 points and Christian Jones had 11.
St. John’s (4-3) quietly pulled within 53-41 on two Ron Mvouika free throws with 10:57 to play in the game. Again it was Thomas who swung the momentum back Fordham’s way. This time it was with a one-handed slam on a defender. Severe followed with three that put the Rams back up 17.
Mullin’s team didn’t fare well in its first true road game of the season and have now lost three of its last four following a 3-0 start. It fell behind 6-0 early to Fordham and looked shaky at times.
Freshman forward Kassom Yakwe, playing his first game since behind academically cleared by the NCAA, was tentative early, but pick up his play as the game went on. It left Mullin impressed and optimistic about his future.
“He’s going to be really good,” Mullin said. “Once he gets a little more experience, he’s going to find his way around just fine as you can see how athletic he is.”
St. John’s will look to rebound against other local school when it faces St. Francis College at 11 a.m. Sunday at Madison Square Garden in the opening game of the MSG Holiday Festival.
“It was a tough game on the road,” Balamou said. “[When you have] 19 turnovers in college basketball it’s tough to win. We didn’t play well, but we just have to go back to work and get ready for the next game.”