Despite showing marked improvements over three days in the Maui Invitational, this young St. John's roster learned there is nothing in college basketball like a true road game.
Chris Mullin's team took a trip down the road to Rose Hill Gymnasium in the Bronx and were dominated by the Fordham Rams from start-to-finish, losing 73 to 57, in another valuable early season test. Felix Balamou used his hops, experience and slashing ability to lead the Johnnies in scoring with 14 points while veterans Ron Mvouika, Durand Johnson and Christian Jones combined to add 26 points.
But the freshman had a rough go. Federico Mussini, five points on 2-of-9 shooting and five turnovers, struggled mightily with Fordham's pressure defense and consistent double teams. Yankuba Sima, zero points and three rebounds, had a difficult time finishing around the rim on the offensive end and was a non-factor defensively for most of the night.
The Johnnies were without Malik Ellison (foot) and Darien Williams (shoulder) but freshman Kassoum Yakwe made his debut, finishing with nine points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
Fordham never gave the Red Storm any time to get comfortable as they jumped out to a 12-6 lead thanks to aggressive, tough defense that had the near sold-out crowd on their feet before the under 16 minute television timeout. St. John's turned the ball over 13 times, continued to defend the three poorly (five threes before the break), let the Rams shoot 50 percent in the first half and failed to settle down after starting the night with a lot of one-on-one basketball.
The Rams built a 41-25 lead before halftime as three players, Mandell Thomas (three straight threes at one point), Jon Severe and Ryan Rhoomes, reached double figures. Jeff Neubauer's squad only turned the ball over seven times, had nine steals and scored 13 points off those takeaways in the opening half.
Rhoomes took over the paint, out-muscling Sima and Yakwe, in the second half, but the Johnnies did cut down the poor passes and finished with a shooting percentage of 40 from the field. Fordham also only hit two threes in the second frame and ended the game with 32 percent from downtown.
Thomas (14 points on 5-of-13 shooting), Severe (14 points) and Rhoomes (26 points and 12 boards) were very impressive with their commitment and high energy at both ends of the floor.
Next up for the Johnnies (4-3) will be their first game at Madison Square Garden as they will face St. Francis Brooklyn (3-4) Sunday at 11 a.m.