With the new year less than a week old, 2020 has already brought the Fordham Rams enough grief that could last a lifetime. A depleted Rams team suited up against the La Salle Explorers last Sunday night in the Bronx. The matchup between the Rams and the Explorers marked Fordham’s second game in the Atlantic 10 Conference, but their first at home.
The Rams dropped to 6-8 overall and 0-2 in A10 play, after falling short to the Explorers by a score of 66-60.
The Rams quickly came to the realization that junior forward Chuba Ohams wasn’t going to play. Ohams was sidelined after suffering an injury during the pre-game warmups. The extent of his injury wasn’t immediately known. Ohams now joins teammates Antwon Portley [leg injury] and Erten Gazi [concussion protocol] on the disabled list. Portley, Gazi and Ohams are three of the Rams leading scorers.
“It’s obviously a very unusual situation today with Chuba going down in warmups,” said Head Coach Jeff Neubauer during the post-game press conference. “I don’t have any information on him yet. But they did take him to the hospital immediately. And so, I say a unique situation because our team had to adjust, first of all to a traumatic situation. Like they were worried about their teammate. We had a play in place for Chuba to play. So, with all that being said, its basketball season and so things happen. So, our guys did fight back there at the end. I did like the response to getting down but staying with it. And we certainly have toguard the arc better. I think that was an issue early in the game.”
But outside of Fordham adding another one of their top players to the injured reserve, the Rams were coming off an 18-point loss to VCU three days before.
The Explorers opened the first half hot, sinking three 3-pointers, jumping to a 9-0 lead. While stuck on zero for the first couple of minutes of the period, the Rams grinded their way back into thegame. Sophomore Ty Perry led the rally after completing a 3-point play. Puerto Rican point guard Josh Colon followed up with a 3-point play of his own as well.
Junior guard Ivan Raut, who went from playing zero minutes against VCU, led the Rams in scoring with a season-high of 18 points. Raut shot 4-for-6 from three-point range, while Perry dropped 13 points and Colon finished the scrap with ten points and a season high of seven rebounds. Center Joel Soriano of the Dominican Republic grabbed eight boards in the process.
The Rams trailed by 14 points at the conclusion of the first half, 34-20. In the second half, a Raut three-pointer started an 11-2 Rams run. With 8:12 in the second half, the Rams found themselves only down by five baskets, 50-40.
With just two minutes left, Perry nailed a pair of free throws and Raut netted another triple, which cut the Explorers’ lead to just four, 60-56. With 37 seconds left in the matchup, the Rams fouled the Explorers, sending them to the line for the purpose of stopping the clock. The Explorers hit all six of their free throws during the final 36 seconds of the game for the win.
The Explorers improved to 10-4 overall and 1-1 in A10 competition.
The Rams defense came up big during the second half. Fordham forced 19 Explorer turnovers while garnering 11 team steals. But unfortunately, the Rams missed some costly free throws late. The outcome could have been different, assuming that the Rams had attained more success at the free throwline.
“It’s really a fascinating thing to me, because we do have good shooters,” Neubauer told NYSportsday. “Sometimes a team just has two or three guys that struggle. We got great shooters. I have been fortunate to be around amazing free throw shooting teams. To me, there are a lot of bigger issues today than the free throw shooting, especially on the defensive end. But you are right, we have to make more free throws.”
Perry and Jalen Cobb have come up big in the absence of Portley and Gazi, due to them carrying the brunt of the offensive load. Will this be a recurring pattern for Fordham if Gazi and Portley are out?
“Jalen certainly is going to play a lot of minutes,” Neubauer said. “He played a much better second half than he did in the first. La Salle is so physical with their defense. They are so rugged and that’s just a compliment to them. But it affected us a little bit in the first half. In the second half, Jalen was tough and really drove the ball hard. You mentioned Tyrone. Tyrone, if he’s not the toughest guy on our team, he’s one of the two toughest. And so, we are certainly going to rely on his toughness here through the rest of the season.”
The Rams continue A10 play on Saturday, January 11, against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies at 2:00 p.m. Considering that the Bonnies have such a large front court, you must wonder if Neubauer has toyed with the idea of playing Soriano and power forward Onyi Eyisi simultaneously. Playing Eyisi and Soriano together could prove to be beneficial for the Rams on both ends of the floor.
The Rams outscored the Explorers 30-18 in the paint. On the defensive end, the 6’11 Soriano combined with the 6’9 Eyisiprovides the type of rim protection that is needed late in games to preserve a lead.
Eyisi only played 13 minutes against La Salle. That’s nowhere near enough. Eyisi must play 20 minutes a game to give Fordham a decent shot to win every night.