Photo by Hunter Hensel
Although the Fordham Rams were about an 80-minute ride on the D Train away from Rose Hill Campus, Head Coach Keith Urgo began his postgame press conference on Thursday Night the same way he always did, thanking the Herd, as well as the hundreds of other fans in attendance to see Fordham’s A-10 Quarterfinal matchup against the La Salle Explorers.
“I want to obviously give credit [for contributing to the win] to Rose Thrill in the Barclays Center,” said Coach Urgo. “That energy was absolutely fantastic, and we’re going to need it again [on] Saturday. I know these guys [Darius Quisenberry and Khalid Moore] felt that and it carried us through to that last, 40th minute.”
Before the Rams would use that final boost, Fordham and La Salle tipped off in the final game of the Thursday Night Session, their second overall meeting this season. With that first meeting ending 66-64 on an Antrell Charlton buzzer beater, it was no surprise that the rematch was just as close from tip, albeit a bit more defensive. La Salle looked to move early through star guards Jhamir Brickus and Khalil Brantley, who scored 23 and 22 respectively a day earlier in their Second Round win over Duquesne. However, behind 5 first half blocks from Rostik Novitskyi and 6 team points in the fast break, the Rams neutralized the two guards’ impact and carried that defensive momentum into physical buckets on the other end.
“Those kids are unbelievable, right?” Coach Urgo said about Brantley and Brickus. “I know one is a New York guy, and one is a Philly guard. I’m used to Philly guards, they never stop. Neither do New York guards. What we wanted to do is have them see multiple looks. We played multiple defenses to kind of keep them off-guard. We did everything we could to keep the ball out of their hands.”
At halftime, the two guards combined for 9 of La Salle’s 23 first half points, shooting a combined 3 for 10 from the field. La Salle missed all 7 of their first half three pointers.
While three point production for the Rams was also low in the first half, connecting on 3 of their 12 attempts, Fordham shined in the paint. Outscoring the Explorers 20-16 down low in the first, just 2 committed turnovers for the Rams to go along with 2 offensive boards allowed them to maintain a chokehold on the game’s tempo. After a Will Richardson 3 pointer that put the Rams up 21-18, Fordham methodically worked off of the energy from the crowd to build an 11-point lead at the break on a variety of different plays.
Forcing a steal in the backcourt, Will Richardson went coast-to-coast to score on a goaltended layup to put the Rams up 23-18. Out of the under-8 timeout, Rostik Novitskyi successfully contests a Rokas Jocius shot and Richardson takes it the other way. The ball swings from Richardson to Rostik and then to Quisenberry, who drives it inside to put Fordham up 25-18. Quick, accurate, and with intention, the Rams outscored the Explorers 11-5 in the final 7:26 of the first half.
“We [have] won I don’t know how many games with him [Will Richardson] in the starting lineup,” Darius Quisenberry said. “That’s my confidence [I have] in my teammate and my little brother. He gives us great minutes, great energy off the bench [and] presses full court.”
In 22 total minutes, Richardson scored 10 points off of 4-7 shooting, grabbing 2 steals as well. Talking about role players, Khalid Moore elaborated on the energy that guys like Antrel Charlton and Kyle Rose bring with their multifaceted skillsets.
“We say that the game starts with them,” Moore explained. “Their energy kind of gives us a boost and [is] kind of what get us started, especially on the defensive end with both Will and [Kyle] Rose.”
In the second half, Brantley and Brickus pushed Fordham defenders a lot harder in transition and on the perimeter. As Brantley became the first player on either team to hit 10 points, the Explorers opened the half hitting 5 of their first 7 field goal attempts. Preventing the Explorers from pulling off a crucial run, the Rams stuck to their defensive principles, with Abdou Tsimbila joining the Rams block party with 2 rejections in the second half. The Rams would finish with 10 total team blocks.
Offensively, Fordham would rely heavily on Quisenberry and Moore in the second half, who combined for 30 of Fordham’s 35 points in the final 20 minutes. With just over a minute left to go, the Explorers had cut the Rams lead to 61-57 thanks to 13 second half points from Brantley. Aided by a cacophony of “Let’s Go Fordham!” chants from the Herd, Darius Quisenberry dribbled on the left wing, took the open look thanks to an Abdou Tsimbila screen, and sank his first three pointer of the game, a killing blow that put the Rams up by 7.
“I should have shot better [throughout the game], but it was crazy,” Quisenberry said, describing the energy in the arena. “Just hearing that crowd roar when you hit a shot, it’s everything you live for. When you’re growing up as a kid, watching March Madness, that’s what you want to be, in those moments, hitting those shots.”
Quisenberry would finish the game as Fordham’s leading scorer with 22 points, with Moore right behind him with 20.
With the 69-61 win, the Rams punch their ticket to a meeting with the 2-seed Dayton Flyers on Saturday. This will be the second Fordham appearance in the Atlantic 10 Semifinals since joining the conference in 1995, their first occurring in 2006 which saw the Rams fall to eventual champs Xavier 70-59.