These are the games on the schedule that test a college basketball team before conference play starts up later this month. The Fordham Rams were aware that Sacred Heart would offer that challenge Wednesday night up at Rose Hill and losing 71-70 in the final minutes may have been that test.
The Rams saw their leading scorer, Joseph Chartouny leave the court early in the first half with an injury to his elbow, they allowed the Pioneers to score 27 points on transition and the defense allowed a game to get away.
“This is what the preseason is… full of meaningful tests,” said coach Jeff Neubauer. Sacred Heart statistics don’t look good but they are certainly better. They found a way to guard us in the second half. We struggled to score. The biggest story is how they attacked our defense.”
That defense has been a major component of the Rams in their first eight games. Now at 5-3, and after a 67-63 loss to UTA this past weekend up at Rose Hill, that snapped a non conference 18-game home win streak, the test now is to work on that defense.
It wasn’t pretty how Sacred Heart managed to overcome that strong point of the Rams. De’von Barnett scored seven of his 11 points in the final 2:31. His go ahead layup with 2.7 seconds remaining finished a 16-4 run.
A non-conference game that appeared to be win for Fordham only prepares them for those all important games in the Atlantic-10 that will be competitive.
“It’s tough losing one like this,” Antwoine Anderson said. “These are the ones we need to have because of what is going on later in the season. All the A-10 games will be close like this and we need to find a way to pull through to the end.”
Anderson finished with 15 points. His layup opened up the game for Fordham as they took a lead at the half, 43-34. But the lead did not hold, and Sacred Heart 3-4, a team with some proficient scorers did not give in as the Rams defense was attacked.
“Our success this year in our first five wins have been based on defense,” Neubauer said. “We felt good about our team because of defensive steals and taking stops.”
Partly the absence of Chartouny was a part of the defensive lapse. He leads the Rams with 28 steals, and there was no word as to the severity of the injury that had him watching the remainder of this game in street clothes on the bench.
Neubauer did not view that as a reason for this loss. It was an overall defensive collapse that caused Sacred Heart to score 11 straight points that tied the game at 66 with 2:31 remaining. Fordham would score their final four points at the free throw line due to a technical foul to Pioneers’ head coach Anthony Latina.
That appeared to be the opportunity for the Rams, but it came down to the defense and how Sacred Heart managed to get this win. A test and perhaps at the right time with their first conference game later this month at home against Duquesne.
The positive was Javontae Hawkins with a team high 23 points, and Will Tavares stepped up his game with 11 points. But shooting 58 percent in the first half and 33 percent in the second also was a difference.
A test for the Rams as they go to work on that defense again, and Sacred Heart provided that before their next game at Harvard Saturday afternoon.
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