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Career Night for Baker Overshadows Mike DePaoli’s HC Debut as Dukes Blow Out Fordham 86-62

From tip-off on Wednesday, it was clear that one of Michael DePaoli’s main goals as head coach was to open up Fordham’s offense. In his first game at the helm since Jeff Neubauer’s Tuesday departure, a fresh-faced Fordham team was getting off a lot of shots early, and while not a lot were connecting, DePaoli felt like it was an improvement.

“We had a lot of good looks in the first half, but we just couldn’t knock them down,” DePaoli said in his first post-game presser. “We got a little impatient. I feel like we could have gotten some better shots off if we spent more time working the ball.”

Fordham’s ball movement was definitely an improvement in the first half. Despite finishing the first twenty minutes shooting 24% from the field, gone were the consistent dumps to an overworked Joel Soriano. Instead, Fordham’s possessions featured plenty of perimeter passing and solid cuts to the hoop. While a system like this would have resulted in some better shot production if the Rams just stuck to it, they eventually resorted to chucking up a lot of sloppy shots in an attempt to cut into a growing Duquesne lead.

“We were making them guard 2-3 sides of the floor, but then we made it easier for them by taking some quicker shots,” DePaoli said before emphasizing his goal of improving his team’s shooting. “We’re gonna stay with it, stay in the gym, making sure these guys are more confident with the ball on their hands and that they can make those shots.”

While improving offense is going to be DePaoli’s main goal going forward, Fordham’s usually solid defense took a major backseat tonight. While this lapse is due in large part to adjusting from Neubauer’s departure, Fordham allowed 86 points, their second highest of the season after La Salle. When asked about what happened, DePaoli attributed today’s lacking defense to being outmuscled on the glass.

“What really killed us tonight was second-chance shots going in,” DePaoli said. “If you give a team those chances, you’re going to get discombobulated as they kick out a ton of threes. Normally our scramble defense is really good, and tonight we just weren’t.”

Duquesne finished the game with 13 offensive rebounds, paving the way for 15 second chance points. Duquesne freshman Chad Baker was the biggest beneficiary of this performance on the boards, finishing with 23 points.

Going forward, DePaoli made it clear that he will continue to work Fordham’s rotation. Working with four guards on the floor for a large portion of the game, DePaoli expressed his preference for the lineup, mentioning Joel Soriano’s tendency to pick up fouls, as well as giving Chris Austin opportunities to produce in the frontcourt.

“We’re trying to balance how to spark us offensively while maintaining that defensive identity,” DePaoli explained. “Chris has taken advantage of it [time at power forward] and he scored 19 points tonight. Our guards can’t rely on Joel and Onyi to get the rebound. If you can take the shot, you’re expected to try and clean up the possession [if you miss].”

Finally, DePaoli outlined his role as interim head coach following Jeff Neubauer’s departure. For better or worse, Neubauer was the only head coach any active Fordham player has had in their college career. Now at the helm, DePaoli has to take time for his players to process the change, yet still carve out a path for the rest of the season.

“There’s guys who process things different ways; some processed it right away, some processed it last night, some will process it over the next few days,” DePaoli outlined. “I think as a coaching staff we need to keep them really focused and keep two feet on the task at hand. No one feels bad for us, so we need to be locked in, we need to be better, and we need to guarding at a level we’re capable of guarding at.”

Next, Fordham will take on VCU in Richmond on Sunday.