Fordham is no stranger to being punched in the mouth. In 4 of the Rams’ 12 wins heading into conference play, the Rams trailed at halftime, with their largest deficit (before tonight) occurring against Tulane at 8 points. However, while Davidson’s 15-point halftime lead on Wednesday night was not necessarily a knockout punch, it was strong enough to keep the Rams on the ropes throughout the second half.
Though Davidson got out to an early 8-2 lead in front of a packed Rose Hill Gym, it wasn’t clear from tip-off how far they’d extend their advantage at the half. As both teams struggled from the field, shooting a combined 4-18 from the field before the under-16 media timeout, and 0-8 from three, the Rams and Cats looked to their big men to get something going down low. Sam Mennenga, who scored 16 points in his last visit to Rose Hill, was an early producer for Davidson in Wednesday’s game, benefitting from some elite ball movement to finish with a powerful dunk that put Davidson up 4-2.
While they made up for early offensive struggles with some physical defense, it was clear that Fordham needed to make adjustments. From deep, Fordham was ice cold, missing all 16 of their first half three point attempts. Scoring down low was not much of an option either, as Davidson locked down any lanes that Khalid Moore drove into, and had hands in the face of any mid-range shooter. Coach Urgo then reached into reliable bench scorers like Zach Riley, Romad Dean, and even Angel Montas, who had 9 points in his debut against VMI last week, but nothing seemed to break Fordham’s slump.
“Went on a little run there [in the second half], but we just couldn’t make shots,” Coach Urgo explained. “Some nights you’re not going to be able to make shots, and unfortunately tonight was one of those. We missed some bunnies, we missed some layups, and then [going] 3-31 [from three], it’s going to be very difficult to win games.”
Outside of shooting, Fordham was a fairly competent team in the first half. At the break, the Rams had turned the ball over 4 times, allowed just 2 fast break points, and 4 second chance points. During the break, Coach Urgo explained to his players that in order to get back into this game, they really only had to improve on one side of the ball.
“[The message] was keep them off the offensive glass. Let’s try to get out and run,” Urgo recounted. “Because we weren’t getting much in the half court. We wanted to try and get out in transition, which we did, but unfortunately we couldn’t make the shots when we needed to.”
Despite Fordham’s shooting struggles carrying over into the opening minutes of the second half, the Rams turned the dial up on their already physical defense, forcing 11 Davidson turnovers in the period. Rostyk Novitskyi had another solid second half, scoring 12 in the final 20 minutes as Fordham calmed down and more effectively ran their usual offensive sets. While three pointers were still an issue, with their first make from deep coming from Kyle Rose with 10 minutes left to play, the Rams were able to string together a few small runs to get Davidson’s lead down to as low as 8 points.
All the way through these runs, the Rose Hill Gym, filled with 1,700 fans, were behind the Rams, encouraging big stops with chants of “Defense,” and sounding off in small eruptions for every Fordham forced turnover or bucket scored. The Fordham fans in attendance had their work cut out for them as well, as they had to contend with a pocket of Davidson fans in Section 111 who were rooting for Wildcats Freshman Sean Logan, a native of Westfield, NJ.
“That energy in the building was great. That’s a very difficult place [to play],” Urgo said of the crowd. “You saw, when it was going, how loud it was. Call it ‘Rose Hell,’ not ‘Rose Hill.’ That’s what we’re looking for.”
With the crowd on their side, the Rams scoring in the second half was more than double in the first, but still not enough to surmount a Davidson team that had flipped on defensive cruise control, as the Wildcats closed the game out 57-43, handing Fordham their first home loss of the year.
Despite the 0-1 start to conference play, Coach Urgo found plenty of aspects of Fordham’s performance that can be reshaped into a successful A-10 run, chief among them maintaining physicality, limiting turnovers, and holding star scorers like Foster Loyer to just 4 points.
“That’s the way we gotta play,” Urgo explained. “We’re known for defending and rebounding. We’re known for playing extremely hard. That’s the way we defend. That’s the way we gotta continue to rebound. We just need to be a little more physical and tough on the offensive end as well.”
Fordham heads into the New Year on a short break, before resuming conference play on January 4th in Kingston when they take on the Rams of Rhode Island.