As we’ve seen for almost two years now in college basketball, a team’s first game coming out of a Covid-related pause is always a bit shaky. In their first game since a December 30th win over La Salle, the Fordham Rams struggled offensively against the Duquesne Dukes, with both teams not being able to score a bucket until a minute and a half into the game. Both teams’ physicality and speed set the tone early on, with Fordham trying their best to score in transition before getting stopped by at least three Dukes crowding the paint.
To break through Duquesne’s wall down low, Fordham frequently looked to Chuba Ohams to finish at the rim, either via a backdoor cut or from driving right in from the top of the key. While Ohams had his work cut out for him, this method was effective for Fordham until around the first media timeout. Outside of Ohams, the Rams ran a tough defense of their own under the paint, while also forcing some key turnovers in the midcourt via guards like Darius Quisenberry and Josh Colon-Navarro. Outside of three-point shooting and, surprisingly, free throw shooting, Fordham was holding their own against the Dukes.
Coming out of the media timeout, Duquesne turned the dial to 11, and Fordham had a tough time keeping up. For the next eight minutes, the Dukes would go on a 22-10 tear, while Fordham would flounder at 3-for-10 from the field in that same stretch. Defensively, the Dukes were able to grab two steals and beat the Rams in transition to bring their lead up to as much as 13 points. Duquesne Center Tre Williams was a major pillar for his team in both halves, going 5-for-10 from the field in the first.
“Watching him on tape you don’t get a feel for how athletic he is and how physical he is,” said Fordham Coach Kyle Neptune. “He’s just a monster; great footwork, great hands, great touch around the rim.”
While Fordham guards like Darius Quisenberry and Kyle Rose were able to chip away at Duquesne’s lead shortly before halftime, the Dukes led 40-33 at the break, meaning that Fordham was going to half to make some serious defensive adjustments in order to come away with the win.
Coming out of halftime, it looked like Fordham got some good shots in transition, but Duquesne, led by Primo Spears, kept hammering and maintained a 44-35 lead. Spears would go on to finish the game with 20 points off of 75% shooting from the field.
Despite Duquesne’s efficiency, Fordham’s shooters began to heat up, and they went on a 24-9 run of their own to take their first lead of the half. Aside from the perfect shooting from deep, this run, like Duquesne’s was propelled by strong defense and capitalizing off of steals (Fordham would score 22 points off of turnovers in total against the Dukes). With the game now neck and neck, Fordham entered the under 12 media timeout with a whole new outlook. According to Coach Neptune, his team’s sudden turnaround was fueled largely by the leadership of his players, and their ability to inspire each other on the floor.
“Our guys in the huddle were just ravenous. They were like just ready to go,” Neptune explained. “I think we got down a little bit and our leaders got into everyone. They just overwhelmed them with their energy at certain points in the second half.”
In terms of energy, Chuba Ohams was no doubt the leader for the Rams. Once Ohams wasn’t the only option on offense, he was really able to work from all areas of the floor. Several sequences for Fordham began with an Ohams block and ended in an alley oop finish from the longtime Fordham Center. Ohams would finish the night with 14 points, 16 rebounds, and 8 blocks.
“He’s our emotional leader, he’s always level headed, he’s one of the hardest workers,” Neptune said of his star. “I couldn’t be more proud of someone as a coach for how he approaches every day. He’s just an unbelievable person above a player. We don’t care how he is offensively, as long as he brings that defensive effort, we’ll all be happy.”
As both teams traded buckets in the final stretch, it became obvious that this game would go to whoever scored the final bucket. Tempers flared in the final minutes, with referees having to separate players on the court, and even during a timeout when some Duquesne players tried sneaking into the Fordham huddle. Luckily, this battle was settled with buckets instead of bickering. After Spears put the Dukes ahead 71-70, Darius Quisenberry missed a go-ahead three pointer, forcing the Rams to foul. After the first free throw of a one-and-one missed, Fordham was able to push down the court with nine seconds left, resulting in a game winning drive to the bucket from Antonio Daye. After a low scoring performance against La Salle, Daye’s 16 points and game winner was a return to form according to Neptune.
“No one saw a difference in him,” Neptune said. “He just kept coming. He threw it out there. He’s been in college for four years already, he’s been through a lot of different wars. We’re confident in him, we know what he can do, he’s confident in himself, and he just makes great plays at great times.”
With this win, Fordham improves to 2-0 in conference play for the first time ever in the Atlantic 10. While a notable record, Coach Neptune said that the focus was instead on their next opponent Saint Louis, who they will take on at Chaifetz Arena on Saturday afternoon.