Early on Sunday afternoon, the absence of Fatts Rusell seemed to be the perfect scenario for the Fordham Rams. Heading into halftime leading for the first time all season, Fordham was on track to pull off a solid second win of the year, locking down URI’s offense and maintaining decent control over the game before losing by ten. What went wrong in the second half? Let’s talk about what I liked about Fordham’s play, and where I think they could have improved.
The Good Stuff
Fordham is one of the better defensive teams in the A-10. We established that a while ago, there’s no need to argue about it. When they can’t connect on offense due to poor shooting, they’re able to bring opponents down to their own level, turning games in 55-50 brick fests from both sides. The biggest weakness in this type of play is often hot hands, which we saw against teams like the Bonnies with Jaren Holmes, who Head Coach Jeff Neubauer described as a “Gold Shirt” player, meaning someone who you can’t let get open for a quick shot.
Rhody’s own gold shirt was absent today, as Fatts Russell did not play due to a core muscle injury. Leading up to today, Russell had been the leading scorer for Rhode Island at 15.2 points per game, and, in my opinion, the player whose performance was almost intertwined with the success of Rhody this season. This could be seen early on in the first, as Rhody shooters could not connect, heading into halftime with an ugly 32.1 field goal percentage. Fordham’s wasn’t much better at 37.9, but 28 first half points ranks in the upper half of games played so far this year. Fordham once again showed their prowess in drawing offensive fouls as well, a frustrating tactic that paved the way for their victory over Dayton three weeks ago.
Where to Improve (ASAP)
As the game entered the second half, the same problems that have plagued Fordham all season began to seep through, turning a back and forth game into a final 13-2 run for Rhode Island to come away with the 10-point win. If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching Fordham this year, it’s that three things in life are certain; death, taxes, and Joel Soriano to get into foul trouble. Soriano committed three first-half fouls, meaning that his second half minutes were severely limited. Fordham’s defense can still roll without Soriano on the floor as long as Navarro can force turnovers, but competing against another big like URI’s Makhel Mitchell is a struggle for players like Onyi Eyisi. When you’re a team in a conference like the A-10, you can’t bank on your opponent’s shooting slump to carry you all the way to victory.
Speaking of shooting, if I’m Coach Neubauer, I’m having a whole practice dedicated to shooting the ball on Tuesday before the Duquesne game. Fordham continues to be the lowest scoring offense in the entire country at just 5o points per game. Even when you’re holding opponents to some of their own worst offensive performances, it’s a mute achievement when you have no answer on the other end. Fordham is a small team, yes, and their game is hampered by a lacking performances on the glass, but plenty of teams make up for it with consistent shooting. The Rams of the Bronx have ten games to improve their shooting before the A-10 Tournament in March, which is their only chance to clinch a postseason bid (no matter how out of reach that is right now), so regardless of wins or losses, improving field goal percentages throughout the entire roster must be the number one priority for Fordham.