Washington D.C. – Any mediocrity of the Fordham Men’s basketball program is officially over. The Rams made a statement Thursday afternoon in Washington D.C. by advancing to the quarterfinals of the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament with a second round 54-49 win over George Mason.
Next up for Fordham, a meeting with top seed Davidson (25-5) Friday afternoon at the Capital One Arena. The Wildcats were second in conference scoring and fourth in defense. It has been a long time for the Rams. 2007 was their last best showing in the tournament when they advanced to the semifinals with a 45-37 win over Richmond.
“Give a lot of credit to our guys,” first year coach Kyle Neptune said. “They got a lot of open looks. We go into a game, defend, and rebound at a high level. As long as we defend and play hard, we have a chance.”
And this Fordham team has bought into the Neptune philosophy, a rookie coach hired from Villanova after spending the past eight years as an assistant. George Mason led at the half by three (22-19) and had an 11-point advantage with 15 minutes remaining in the second half.
But that constant mentality of defense and a will to win has been a part of the Rams’ success that positioned them to an 8th seed in the tournament. They were in uncharted territory of not finishing at the bottom and playing an opening round game in the tournament.
This was different, though, because the Rams were not projected to advance past the second round having to deal with the adversity of injuries through a tough conference schedule. Their leading scorer, grad student Darius Quisenberry, continued to battle a bad knee and went scoreless.
Their other grad, Chuba Ohams, named A-10 Most Improved Player, finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds. It was his 21st double-double in the last 28 games, and his play has also been a major contributor to the Rams success.
“Coach reiterated to us that we weren’t playing like we wanted,” Ohams said about cutting the deficit and getting the eventual win. “Basically, we just had to stay with the scouting report and trust what the coaches tell us.”
The 16 Fordham wins could also qualify them for a postseason NIT Tournament bid, that is, if they don’t advance and pull the upset with a conference tournament win which would give the Rams an automatic bid to the upcoming field of 68 in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Fordham also got contributions from a contingent that got the attention of Neptune when he met his new team last April. Antrell Charlton scored 11 points with seven rebounds. Abdou Tsimbila added 10 rebounds.
Senior Josh Colon Navaro, averaging 14 points per game, was held to three, but his defense and ability to set up plays continued to play a role. He has been another example of adjusting and adapting to Kyle Neptune and the philosophy of the no quit Rams.
“Our identity and we play hard,” Navaro said. “Everything is different. There is a guy here (Neptune) who gave me confidence as soon as he got here. Since he got here it’s not only me. The confidence, just play your game. You are never out of a game.”
And until otherwise, Fordham is still in this. They take that next step Friday and look for the upset over Davidson in their quest to play deep into March Madness.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso