Hitting the court for the first time in two weeks, Fordham was off to a slow start in their first round matchup against the George Washington Colonials. In a pregame talk yesterday, Coach DePaoli emphasized the need to lock down Jamison Battle and James Bishop, as they’re both known to perform well on contested shots.
DePaoli’s assessment was accurate, as the Colonials were quickly able to jump into a 13-2 lead heading into the under-12 timeout. After missing their first five shots of the game, which primarily came from deep, the first bucket of the game was scored by returning senior Chuba Ohams. This was Ohams’ first game since January of 2019, in which he sustained a knee injury during warmups. According to head coach Mike DePaoli, having Ohams back was a major key to how well Fordham played today.
“Having Chuba back on the court was the biggest morale boost we could have provided for this team,” DePaoli said. “These guys love Chuba. The minutes he gave us were great. He had some great plays, and brought a lot of great energy out on the floor.”
DePaoli’s assessment on Ohams’ energy was no exaggeration. In 9 minutes played in the first half, Ohams made sure each one counted, grabbing 3 rebounds on some scrappy offensive plays.
While the Rams struggled offensively early on, they were able to turn up their defensive intensity shortly before halftime cut a 15-point lead all the way down to 3. Knowing their own identity as team was a major factor in bringing the margin down to 3 before the break.
“I told our guys it was going to be about finesse, or it was going to be a fight,” DePaoli said. “In the beginning, it was about finesse, which favored GW. I think the last ten minutes turned into a fight, which is what it needed to be for us.”
Fordham’s fight led to a comeback that was highlighted by consecutive 4-minute scoring droughts for the Colonials. GW made just one of their last 14 shots before the break.
To give a recap on how the Colonials kept themselves in the fight to pull of the win, here’s A-10 Talk’s very own Daniel Frank:
If the first half wasn’t, the entirety of the second half was a slugfest. Fordham shot 36% in the final 20 minutes, while GW shot just 35%.
After trailing by 15 in the first half, the Rams gave GW everything they had, coming all thee way back to lead by 2 a couple of times. But when it came down to it at the end, Fordham couldn’t score a basket the final 2:59 of the game, while George Washington scored the final 6 points of the game.
The turning point of the game proved to be the intentional foul that was called with 2:40 left, after which the tables seemed to turn. Yet despite that, Fordham had their chances, but missed their final four shots of the game. With 40 seconds remaining, Jamison Battle drilled a long three that gave the Colonials a 51-49 lead, and one they would not relinquish.
On the ensuing possession, GW got the defensive stop they needed, and a pair free throws helped seal the victory. Two players I want to highlight from this one are Ricky Lindo Jr and Jamison Battle. In the first half alone, Ricky broke his career-high in scoring at 14 points. He would go on to finish with 21 points, along with 14 rebounds and two assists.
The second half story was by far Jamison Battle. After scoring just five points in the first 20 minutes, he scored 12 in the second half, including what proved to be the game-winning three with 40 seconds left.
What’s next for Fordham?
While Fordham’s current campaign ends today, the headlines don’t. As the offseason begins for Fordham, all eyes will be focused on their continuing search for a permanent replacement for Jeff Neubauer. Understandably so, when asked about how they feel regarding the search, Joel Soriano and Chris Austin explained that they haven’t been too focused on the situation.
“My Coach is Mike DePaoli,” Soriano said. “I’m ten toes in Fordham right now, and I’m not going to talk about something that hasn’t happened.”
DePaoli echoed similar statements. While his name has definitely circulated the rumor mill as a potential candidate, DePaoli shot down any notion towards these last few games being about his future role within the team.
“This was not the Mike DePaoli campaign tour,” DePaoli said. “My job is to serve those young men, to lead those young men, and that’s what I’m here to do. I’m trying to control what I can right now.”
For continuing coverage of Fordham’s head coach search, stay tuned on A-10 for any possible updates.
For the Colonials, they advance to the 2nd Round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament and will face #6 George Mason tomorrow at the Robins Center at 5:30 on NBCSN.