A new energy seemed to resonate in Rose Hill Gym Saturday afternoon. While it may have taken until his third game as head coach, Mike DePaoli’s work at developing the Fordham Rams to where he wants them to be finally paid off. After taking down the La Salle Explorer’s 76-68 for his first win at the helm, DePaoli felt like his Rams had hit the refresh button on this season.
“It’s just about getting better every day,” DePaoli said of his team’s current goal. “If you look at where we were each game since I took over as coach, against Duquesne we were shell-shocked, we got better against UMass, and we got better today. We just need to keep playing and improving upon our Fordham brand of basketball.”
This Fordham brand of basketball that DePaoli mentioned seemed to focus mainly on a much improved offensive performance. From tip-off, Fordham continued their increased offensive tempo. They more willing to take shots from all around the floor than any game they played under Jeff Neubauer, and finally for the Rams, their shots were hitting. Scoring a season high 76 points, Fordham finished the day shooting 47 percent from the field, including 44 percent from three point range. Five Rams scored in double-figures, with Ty Perry leading all Rams with 18 points off the bench. Coach DePaoli wasn’t quick to give any specific player praise, emphasizing how much of a team effort this was.
“It was an absolute team win today, that’s evident by the box score,” DePaoli emphasized. “We had five guys in double-figures, 19-for-21 from free throws, totally even on the glass, just a total team effort. I told my guys after the game that I was so happy for them to have this experience, and if we put forward the effort, we’ll continue to have these experiences.”
Despite the reluctance to single out too many players, DePaoli couldn’t help but praise Jalen Cobb, who DePaoli felt has really put in the work to improve to the level he played at today.
“I can’t describe how excited I am for Jalen Cobb. He was in my office on Thursday and we talked about a lot,” DePaoli described. “You keep pounding the rock, and you’ll eventually break through.”
Cobb finished the day with 14 points off of 50 percent shooting to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. When asked about how he felt after his performance, Cobb attributed his improvement largely to Coach DePaoli’s belief in his ability.
“I knew it was coming eventually, I had just had to stay with it, and it’d come to me,” Cobb said on his performance. “Coach [DePaoli] has been with me since I was a freshman. He helped me develop my ball-handling, so it was great to return that by helping him get his first win.”
Fordham went into half time up 13 points, allowing just 24 from La Salle in one of their better defensive halves of the year. Going into the second half, Fordham seemed a bit uncomfortable as the team in control. This lead to a couple of sloppy turnovers that kept the game close down the stretch. Coach DePaoli emphasized that this will be a major focal point in their continuing development.
“The second half was not a good defensive effort,” DePaoli put bluntly. “Down the stretch we had timely stops, we stopped them when we needed to, but not our best defensive effort. They shot 33 percent in the first half and 56 percent in the second.”
Despite the pointers for next game, DePaoli expressed simple gratitude for his team and relief for getting the win. Reflecting on his eleven years at Fordham, DePaoli couldn’t help but be grateful for everyone around him in the program.
“I’ve done everything here from take out the garbage to head coach, so I’m not going to lie to you [this win] is special,” DePaoli said. “It’s not just me, it’s the players and the staff [as well]. Dennis Felton and Anthony Evans both told me things prior to the game that were everything, so to have those two former head coaches on the side with me was great. Very happy for the staff, very happy for the players. It was a team effort.”
Fordham’s next challenge will be at George Mason this Wednesday.