For the first time since 2006, the Fordham Rams will play in the Atlantic 10 Semifinals. Their second appearance in the semis since joining the conference in 1995, the 3-seeded Rams will take on the 2-seeded Dayton Flyers in their second meeting of the season. With an extra day of practice added to the Friday of Tourney Week this year, Fordham Head Coach Keith Urgo, along with top Rams scorers Darius Quisenberry and Khalid Moore, took some time in between practice on Friday to discuss their matchup with Dayton and the adjustments they’ve made since early January.
In their first meeting two months ago, an 82-58 win for Dayton at the Rose Hill Gym, the Flyers took control early and never took their foot off of the gas pedal. Dayton outscored Fordham 42-20 in the paint, while the Rams shot 9-30 from three point range. Falling to 1-3 in Atlantic 10 play, Fordham followed up that loss by winning 11 of their next 14 regular season games, shooting under 35% from the field just two more times in the regular season. When asked about adjustments made from then to now, the Rams practically consider themselves a completely different team.
“We can’t do what we did then, I’ll tell you that much,” Coach Urgo explained, referring to Fordham’s early January loss. “We [have] just got to be more physical, a lot more physical. We’ve got to do our work early.”
In terms of physicality, Fordham’s biggest challenge will be defending Flyers Forward DaRon Holmes II. Holmes, who put up 32 points in the Bronx earlier this year, had 17 points to go along with 7 offensive rebounds in Dayton’s Thursday victory over St. Joe’s. Defensively, limiting touches for Holmes and Toumani Camara, who also scored 17 against the Hawks.
“We’ve got to make it hard for ‘em,” Coach Urgo explained. “Can’t let them catch it when they want to catch it.”
When asked about preparing for this second meeting, Flyers Head Coach Anthony Grant said a big challenge will be playing through Fordham’s unique style of defense.
“They got a variety of different things that they do defensively,” Coach Grant said. “Some unique things that you really don’t see, you know, throughout the year on anybody else you play, at least I haven’t.”
At the heart of Fordham’s defense is their tenacity and unselfishness. Kyle Rose, who led Fordham in Box Plus Minus against La Salle with a +/- margin of 20, continued to lead that defensive effort as Fordham locked down Explorers stars Jhamir Brickus and Khalil Brantley in the first half. Against a deep team like Dayton, Coach Urgo expects every Ram who hits the court to make big contributions on defense.
“We’re not the most talented team individually,” Urgo said. “They [Fordham players] know that but collectively, we’re very good. Defensively, we want to work teams out. We want to sub as much as possible; Will Richardson, Kyle Rose, Zach Riley when he plays, Romad Dean when he plays, Darius, all [of] these guards. We want to crush the ball.”
Offensively, Fordham has focused on a reactive style of play. Adjusting their shot selection and ball movement in tandem with the physicality of an opponent’s defense and attacking specific weaknesses. Against La Salle, Fordham was able to excel in finding open shots in transition and off the pick and roll, but Rams star Darius Quisenberry emphasized the need to play dynamic basketball.
“I think we’re just trying to play together, trying not to force anything, [to] just take what the defense gives us,” Quisenberry explained. “[We have to] focus on turning the ball over and just getting up shots.”
Aside from production on the floor, Coach Urgo and the Rams emphasized the importance of the Fordham fans in attendance for Thursday’s game, and how a big return in the semifinals will be crucial. Despite a focus on what happens on the floor, Coach Urgo has no problem admitting how the crowd can fuel a big run.
“I think that these guys feed off that [crowd energy], you know? You try to say ‘keep the 94 by 50,’ block the outside noise, but it’s human nature to get involved in that emotion.”
After negotiating a student deal on tickets for Thursday’s game, Fordham Athletic Director Ed Kull made a call for any Fordham students getting ready for Spring Break to consider spending the first weekend in Brooklyn.
Fordham has sold 1500 student tickets to tonight's A-10 game v La Salle at Barclays. When AD Ed Kull discovered cost was $20, he cut cost in half with the school picking up the rest. Class act by a guy who really cares about his school. Fordham should be proud of the hire.
— Dick Weiss (@HoopsWeiss) March 9, 2023
For all Fordham Students, either pushing back, postponing or cancelling your Spring Break Trips to be in Brooklyn for the @A10MBB Tourney Rose Thrill South, please DM or email myself @fordhamRams for a thank you gift! Can’t thank you Enough!! Love you so much!!! #Ramily pic.twitter.com/4fxPuquK6Q
— Edward M. Kull (@EddieKullRamsAD) March 10, 2023
“We need it [the fans’ energy] more than ever,” Urgo said. “All Fordham Rams within 300 miles, shoot, within 500 miles now. You can jump on a plane. It’s the weekend, so do whatever it takes to bring the same energy [from Thursday].”