After having to fight in the paint against a large George Mason team on Sunday, Fordham looked a lot more comfortable against a more evenly-sized La Salle. So comfortable, in fact, that the Rams maintained complete control of the game for much of the first half.
Defensively, the Rams were able to take advantage of some pretty clunky La Salle ball movement, as the Explorers struggled to find an open shot or a path to drive to the hoop. Chuba Ohams and Abdou Tsimbila, in their sixth consecutive shared start, had no problem dominating the glass after a rushed Explorers shot. On the other end of the floor, Ohams opened scoring for the Rams with an emphatic dunk. As for Tsimbila, the first half against La Salle felt like a showcase for his own athleticism, as he frequently pushed his way under the basket to grab offensive rebounds, including one seconds after setting a screen at the three point line.
According to Head Coach Kyle Neptune, the development of this Ohams-Tsimbila combo has been a huge advantage for Fordham over these last few games, and will continue to be important moving forward.
“We have a lot of confidence in those guys as starters,” Neptune said. “They play a good amount of minutes. Abdou especially, his defense has been unbelievable especially down the stretch. He’s transformed our team and our defensive identity.”
While Fordham continued to drive to the basket, with even guards like Josh Colon-Navarro getting good looks inside. Despite the consistency in the paint, Fordham had a bit of trouble at first hitting many shots from deep, preventing any major breakaway early on. Aside from a few fancy moves from Clifton Moore, La Salle had trouble producing shots from anywhere on the court.
As the first half winded down, Fordham continued to press, and was finally able to embark on a 9-2 run. By halftime, Fordham had allowed just 16 points from La Salle off of 6-25 shooting from the field. According to Coach Neptune, this type of gritty defense is exactly the way he wants his team to succeed, both this season and in the future.
“We said in the beginning of the year that that is what we wanted our identity to be,” Neptune said. “To our guys’ credit, I think they’ve really invited that. I think they legitimately go out every game and play as hard as they possibly can and we’ve gotten to be really good on the defensive end.”
As the second half opened, Fordham continued the solid ball movement and defense seen in the first. Josh Colon-Navarro, considered the teams most disruptive guard, was able to strip the ball right out of Christian Ray’s hands to put the Rams up 30-19. Under the basket, there were frequently three to four Rams ready to snag a defensive rebound.
However, as La Salle moved to a zone, and took advantage of a relaxing Fordham defense, a 12-point lead quickly became an 8-point lead. With a Christian Ray three, followed by a Fordham turnover and Khalil Brantley layup, La Salle was down by just 1 with 11 minutes left to play. While Fordham scored just 1-4 in this four minute span, Coach Neptune attributed this La Salle run more to Fordham’s defensive lapse than any shooting woes.
“We weren’t running back. We had a couple mishaps where we were leaving shooters, so I thought it was more the defensive end,” Neptune said. “Obviously they threw a little bit of a zone in there, but it was more that our defense was not as poised as we wanted it to be.”
Despite the momentary lapse, several forced La Salle turnovers, as well as strong shooting from Josh Colon-Navarro, allowed Fordham to maintain the gap and close out a 60-54 win. Improving to 13-13 on the year, and 6-8 in A-10, Coach Neptune reflected on how this team has been able adapt to changing rosters and changing team identities.
“This is basketball. In any big time sport there are going to be injuries, there’s going to be flux,” Neptune explained. “In sports, you have to be ready to step up. You can’t be sad, you can’t say ‘woe is me.’ Nobody cares. To those guys’ credit, I think they didn’t have as big of roles earlier in the year. With guys leaving and injuries, they’ve taken the opportunity and made the best out of it.”
In terms of top performances from Fordham’s role players, Antrell Charlton recorded 10 assists and Josh Colon-Navarro dropped 15 points. Chuba Ohams led all scorers with a 20 point, 13 rebound double double.
“He’s everything for us on and off the floor,” Neptune said of Ohams’ impact. “Off the floor he’s a great kid. He’s a mayor, he knows pretty much everyone on campus. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Up next, Fordham will head to North Carolina to take on Davidson on Saturday.