The Blackbirds used a 19-0 run and led by nine points at the half, shooting 52 percent from the field, and limited Fordham to just 22 points through the first half.
But the Rams, led by senior guard Mandell Thomas and Brooklyn native Jon Severe, came storming back in the second half and eventually won in overtime, 89-84. With its seventh straight win, Fordham improved to 7-1, its best start since the 1970-71 season. The Blackbirds fell to 4-3.
Despite the tough loss, Blackbirds Head Coach Jack Perri said he was happy with some aspects of the game.
“I like our competitiveness. I like the fact that we were able to come back and make plays down the stretch and get it to overtime,” Perri said. “I like that we can get up big on a team like this with this size and athleticism and scoring. We probably won’t see a talented team like this.”
Junior forward Jerome Frink scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the losing effort. Junior guard Aakim Saintil also added 23 points, five rebounds and eight assists off the bench.
Saintil, who was dealing with an ankle injury, also found positive takeaways.
“It’s about toughness, they made runs, we made runs,” Saintil said. “We’ve seen what they did to Fairleigh [Dickinson], what they did to Central Connecticut. They go on 20-0 runs and that’s it. That’s the game. They made runs and we fought back so that’s a positive.”
Fordham had blown out its previous six opponents, winning by an average margin of 24.3 points. Rams Head Coach Jeff Neubauer said he saw value in playing such a tight game.
“The last six games, pretty much every one of them has gone by our script,” Neubauer said. “Not every game is going to go by our script. It’s going to require some toughness, some grit. Our guys did do some winning things tonight.”
The game started with a 10-0 run for the Rams. But LIU Brooklyn quickly punched back, forcing nine turnovers leading to 14 of its 31 first-half points. Their defense held down the explosive Fordham team, which had scored more than 80 points in four of its last five games.
“Our philosophy in the game was to take away the three-point shooting,” Perri said. “They were 1-for-7 at half. We took them out of their stuff for a little bit.”
Neubauer agreed, giving credit to Brooklyn’s stifling defense that prevented the Rams from scoring in a seven-minute stretch.
“We got off to that start we like. We were up 10-0 and that’s what we ask our guys to do, to go get the lead,” he said. “But their defense really improved after that little spurt. And we had a tough time doing what we like to do.”
The Blackbirds also kept Fordham’s senior forward Ryan Rhoomes in check. The South Jamaica native averaged 15.7 points coming into Tuesday’s game, but managed to score only six points overall.
“LIU did a very good job of guarding the post, fronting the post, doubling the post,” Neubauer added. “So we really had a hard time getting in there.”
The second half was a completely different story. Both teams came out firing, but Fordham swung the momentum in its favor with two 7-0 runs. With LIU Brooklyn limiting the Rams beyond the arc, Fordham made a conscientious decision to drive inside to score.
“We did drive the ball more in the second half,” Neubauer said. “We had to make an adjustment and let our drivers attack the rim.”
Fordham’s Severe, a Brooklyn product who attended Christ the King in Middle Village, put Fordham back on top with five straight points. He shot an efficient 10-for-15 from the field for a season-high 26 points, including 21 in the second half.
The Rams and Blackbirds traded baskets in the game’s final minutes. With 21 seconds left and Fordham up by three, Frink sunk a three-point shot to tie the game at 72. Thomas missed a layup in the ensuing possession, sending the game to overtime.
But in extra time, the Rams took over, making 10 of 12 from the free-throw line. With four seconds left and the Blackbirds trailing by three, Frisk attempted to repeat his game-tying feat, but shot an air ball. Fordham put the game away with free throws.
“Honestly, I thought it was good,” Frisk said after the game. “But I took a good look at it and I knew it was going to be an air ball.”
Afterward, Thomas, who led Fordham with a season-high 28 points, put some perspective on the Rams’ red-hot start.
“It’s definitely exciting to win seven games in a row,” he said. “Some of my career here, I’ve won seven games total so there’s a lot different.”