In November when they assembled before their first scheduled game, these Fordham Rams were picked to finish 11th in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Conference. All along, though, as their season progressed, they believed that was not going to be the outcome.
The opinion of the Rams and first year coach Keith Urgo when asked? They said, we will be better than finishing 11th in the conference. The Rams and their coach always believed they would prove the skeptics wrong in March.
But they had to play and prove the skeptics would be wrong. The Rams propelled themselves to a number three seed in the A-10 Tournament, their highest seed in the current format with a school record of 12 conference wins.
A Rose Hill Gym up in the Bronx became “The Thrill” and Thursday evening at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, with a majority of 8,500 students and alumni cheering them on, the Rams continued this remarkable season. “The Thrill” continued and traveled to Barclays as their quest as trailblazers advanced them to their second Atlantic 10 semifinal game.
The 11th seed La Salle University Explorers gave the Rams a contest and came up short 69-61. Fordham fought hard for this one advancing to their first semifinal tournament since 2006 when they fell to Xavier as members of the Patriot League.
They always believed they would be here in March as they prepare for second-seed Dayton tomorrow at 3:30PM. Many years ago, 1992, was the last time a Fordham team reached the NCAA Basketball Tournament and gone are years of struggles, many coaching changes, and recruits leaving for other Division 1 schools. Struggles continued, they made some strides in the conference and last season coach Kyle Neptune would bolt to Villanova after Davidson eliminated Fordham in the A-10 quarterfinal rounds in Washington D.C.
The reality now, these Fordham Rams knew experts were wrong in November. Keith Urgo was instrumental last year as an assistant to Neptune. He witnessed the work ethic of his team and knew they would be here.
Now The Rams are two wins away from the reality of advancing to that elite field of teams and returning to the Big Dance, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament,
“These guys believe they’re going to go in and win every game,” Urgo said Thursday evening. “They play no matter who it is. And in huddles, no matter whether or not LaSalle is going on a run or we’re on a run they’re just focused on attitude, which is let’s worry about the next play.”
Urgo said they focus on what is in front of them. It isn’t one play five minutes before or later. The Rams have focused this entire season on their next possession, a strategy worked again and it got them a significant win over LaSalle.
The Rams this season set a school record number of wins (18) away from their friendly confines. Their supporters arrived early, roared like Rams, and were a part of unchartered territory.
Darius Quisenberry scored 22 points and Khalid Moore added 20 with 11 rebounds, a thriller as the Rams say. Then again it has been Quisenberry and Moore that helped put Fordham in this winning mode all season. They went nip and tuck with the Explorers, converted key baskets, and forced another team to make mistakes.
Fordham led at the half, 34-23 after Moore went for a dunk on the buzzer beater, but LaSalle opened the second half with a 11-2 run to cut the lead to two, 36-34, with 17:20 left. The Rams also forced 10 blocks and that tied for second most ever in an A-10 Championship game.
Moore, the Elmont, NY native and transfer student from Georgia Tech, said it was surreal playing close to his hometown. The Barclays Center atmosphere and his team advancing made his transfer seem all the more worth it.
And the contributions from Will Richardson, Antrell Charlton, and junior guard Kyle Rose. Basically, it has been that team effort and Dayton is prepared to feel that home field advantage.
“I feel we feed off these guys,” Moore said about the bench players who had a role in this win. “They give us a boost and motivation. Even before the game, you see that the game starts with them. Something you live for when you look up to college basketball, that’s the kind of crowd you want to play in front of, so it’s definitely a dream come true.”
And that dream could continue for these Rams. One more win Saturday and their first trip to the conference finals. Then again, they said this was going to be a reality back in November.
“Bringing Rose Hill into Barclays Center, it’s just nothing like it,” Quisenberry said. “The whole community and all of the students did a tremendous job bringing energy the whole game and we fed off that.”
Expect the same Saturday. Barclays Center should see another “Thrill at Rose Hill.” It was meant to be for these Fordham Rams.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and co-host Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube