It’s starting to feel like that name “Rose Thrill” has some staying power. If another sold out crowd in the Bronx wasn’t enough to prove that, then maybe seeing the term spelled out across the abdomens of several Fordham students in section 109 was. According to Coach Urgo, these 10 fans (11 if you include the guy with the exclamation point), along with the rest of sections 107-109, were a crucial piece of Fordham’s 77-67 win over the UMass Minutemen on Wednesday night.
“I honestly believe that [the crowd] was a 10 point difference in the second half,” Urgo explained following his team’s 19th win of the season. “It might have taken a little bit longer than we would have liked, but I honestly think the energy in that building is absolutely infectious.”
If the energy coming from “The Herd” was a difference maker, the Fordham Rams would need to gather every ounce of it if they wanted to prevail in this tight, physical conference matchup. From tip, UMass, who also brought with them a smattering of Minutemen faithful, put serious pressure on both sides of the ball. In the first half for UMass, the ball moved mainly through Matt Cross. Cross, who had lost nearly 20 pounds a week prior due to a stomach illness, had no problem muscling his way through Fordham defenders, scoring 6 of the Minutemen’s first 12 points, finishing the half with 11 off of 5-8 shooting from the field.
“They came out playing extremely hard,” Urgo said. “They took it to us in those first 20 minutes.”
While UMass came out swinging from tip, Fordham had no problem matching their physicality on several possessions. After allowing some early buckets from Minutemen forwards Wildens Leveque and Brandon Martin, Rostik Novitskyi was able to adjust and find his rhythm in the offensive post, forcing his way to the basket on two early possessions for 4 first half points. Off the bench, Abdou Tsimbila matched up well with UMass’ Isaac Kante for 2 rebounds and one drawn trip to the line. By the end of the half, both teams were level under the basket with 20 points apiece in the paint, but the Minutemen’s lights out shooting (53% from the field and 50% from three) saw them enter the break with a 7-point advantage.
Flipping the script early in the second, Fordham quickly shook off any first half shooting jitters to open up the period on a 12-2 run. Catching an inside feed from Antrell Charlton, Rostik Novitskyi fought through two defenders on the baseline to lay it in for the opening bucket of the period. Darius Quisenberry, who was 3-6 from the field in the first half, received a Will Richardson kick-out to the right corner for a three pointer that put the Rams within 2. After shooting 1-10 from three in the first half, the Rams hit 3 of their first 4 shots from deep in the second to help swing a 7-point deficit into a 6-point lead shortly before the under-12 media timeout. One of those shots, a Will Richardson pull-up jumper, was preceded by a steady drone from the Herd of “Reap-er, reap-er,” Richardson’s nickname and handle on social media. When the freshman guard hit the shot from the top of the key to give the Rams a 42-41 lead, the reaction was on par with other recent Rose Thrill highlights:
10-2 run to start the half and Fordham has the lead! pic.twitter.com/Dolw5uCx7U
— Fordham Basketball (@FordhamMBB) February 9, 2023
While spacing and shot selection were big points of improvement for the Rams in the second, it was undeniable that the physicality that defined the first half was as present as ever. Quisenberry, who finished the game with 21 points, scored more from the free throw line than from the field. Drawing 10 fouls, Quisenberry finished 12-14 from the line, 4-5 from the field. A versatile guard who has put his body on the line night after night this season, Quisenberry emphasized his commitment to working through aggressive defenses, not around them.
“It doesn’t really affect me,” Quisenberry said in regards to the contact he draws. “I’m obviously going to fall. I feel like I gotta stay off the ground a little bit. But [I have to] just get back up. That’s our kind of M.O and the [team’s] attitude.”
That attitude, which Coach Urgo explains starts with players like Quisenberry and Khalid Moore, has continued to bleed through this roster. To Urgo, players Elijah Gray are a prominent example. A freshman forward who has found a more regular spot in the rotation in conference play, Gray tied his career scoring high against UMass with 7 points in 13 minutes played. After giving the Rams the go-ahead bucket against Saint Louis a week prior, Gray would give the Rams a double-digit lead against the Minutemen on a put-back and-1 tip-in. According to Coach Urgo, the increased aggression that has turned into positive production from Gray is thanks in large part to the mentorship of Quisenberry.
“The biggest impact that Darius Quisenberry is going to have on this program is his influence on Elijah.”
However, before Darius can evaluate his lasting legacy as a Fordham Ram, it’s clear that his main focus is winning the next game ahead of him, and making sure that his impact on Gray helps achieve that goal as well. While the double-digit lead that Gray established would get cut back down to as much as 6 points late in the game, Fordham would hold on defensively to earn their 7th win in conference play, their 15th at home, and 19th overall. With win number 19 on the season, the Rams hit their highest total as a team since the 1990-1991 campaign that saw Fordham win a total of 25 games, win the Patriot League, and reach the Second Round of the NIT, where they lost to UMass 78-74.
The Rams head back on the road to play Davidson this Saturday, before returning home to take on the Bonnies next Wednesday.