As Fordham Women’s basketball took down Yale 80-67 in their season opener behind 22 points from Anna DeWolfe, the student section at Rose Hill Gym was as rowdy as ever. However, as the Women’s team headed back to the locker room, the student section, now dubbed “The Herd” with a permanent banner on the back brick wall, remained seated as the Men’s team took the court for warmups. Against Dartmouth, Fordham would look to utilize their highly-touted depth and defensive prowess to win their first game of the season, as well as their first under new Head Coach Keith Urgo.
For any basketball program, a new season and new head coach always brings with it new energy, which Fordham put on full display in the opening minutes Monday Night. Their first few possessions set the tone for how they would move the ball in the first half, moving the ball very fast around the perimeter before driving into the first open lane available. While unsuccessful at first, with the Rams missing their first four shots of the game, they continued to press hard. At the center of this aggression was starting forward and newcomer Khalid Moore. A primary facilitator all game, Coach Urgo knew going into this season that Moore stepping into a starting role would be a big shift for the graduate transfer, but a necessary one.
“He’s been a role player for the most part,” Coach Urgo said post-game. “He was always playing with elite 1 on 1 players, so when he came here, he knew that he was going to have to take on a much bigger role for our program.”
Despite leading the way physically early on, even laying on a heavy press in the opening minutes, there was little Fordham could do to stop some hot hands on Dartmouth, as the Big Green got out to an early 10-0 lead. While Fordham laid into Dartmouth in the paint and in transition, the Ivy League team was able to move past several Rams double teams and find open looks around the perimeter, while on defense, Dartmouth forward Dame Adelekun neutralized any Fordham advantage down low. However, once Fordham was able to force some turnovers and grab a few buckets of transition, the Rams embarked on a 10-0 run of their own to tie the game before the under 16 media timeout.
For the rest of the first half, both teams continued to trade big shots. Fordham improved beyond the arc, with Darius Quisenberry shooting 2-for-5 from beyond the arc before halftime. Down low, Rostyslav Novitskyi made some major adjustments to shut down Adelekun in the paint, while also helping Fordham execute better ball screens to find open looks from mid-range. Fordham also kept it close in the first by reaching deep into their bench, with eleven Rams getting at least a minute of playing time before the end of the half. Offensively, this allowed several freshmen to make some early scoring contributions and showcase their skills, such as Will Richardson and Elijah Gray.
Defensively, Fordham got some big stops down the stretch by liquifying their matchups, as Rams defenders executed non-stop switches, cuts, and double teams to force Dartmouth to make quick, reckless decisions. It was clear early on that Dartmouth was relying on the three to maintain an early lead, so Fordham switched their focus to forcing less catch-and shoot opportunities and force shots off the dribble.
In preseason interviews, Coach Urgo alluded to the amount of guys that could defend multiple positions, and while he felt that some switches could have been better executed, they definitely helped Fordham close out the half on a 12-7 run.
“Having the versatility of a bunch of guys [on Fordham] that can play multiple positions, it’s hard [for opponents] because it takes a team out of their offense,” said Urgo.
As the second half opened, Fordham continued to roll out those varied lineups to keep their players fresh, and Dartmouth guessing. On some possessions, Fordham went big, with Abdou Tsimbila taking one dribble before laying in a spinning hook shot to get the Rams up 49-43. Drawing a triple team on the next possession, Novitskyi trudged his way to the basket calmly, yet with immense power to finish with a contested layup. When Fordham went small, with Patrick Kelly at the 5, they once again relied on forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. By the end of the game, Fordham scored 15 points off of 12 Dartmouth turnovers. However, while turnovers were important in these smaller possessions, rebounding was still crucial to maintaining their second half lead. In the postgame press conference, Coach Urgo highlighted Freshman Romad Dean’s performance in that area, who finished the night with 7 points and 2 offensive boards.
No matter what lineup Fordham ran on Monday night, there were three constants in Antrell Charlton, Khalid Moore, and Darius Quisenberry. These three players led the Rams in minutes by a wide margin, playing 38, 29, and 35 minutes respectively. Described last season by Coach Kyle Neptune as a “coach on the floor,” Charlton looks all set to further expand that role in 2022-23.
“That type of trust that we have in him, knowing all 5 positions,” Coach Urgo said. “He knows everything we’re trying to do both defensively and offensively, and he’s just a calming presence, very high IQ.”
Of course, while Quisenberry was looked upon in this game for his leadership, his ability to score tough, contested buckets is what led to his 35 minutes on the floor. With 20 points off of 7-18 shooting, Quisenberry forced his way into being the open man on every possession possible. While he was solid beyond the arc, shooting 37%, Quisenberry’s biggest contribution came when frequently putting his body on the line for shots under the basket. When talking about DQ’s performance, Coach Urgo described the graduate guard as buying into Fordham’s “attitude club.”
“That’s just about being gritty, not really caring what you look like,” Urgo explained. “What that means is diving on the floor, taking screens, taking charges, being physical, whatever it takes to help our team win. He’s nursed a bunch of different injuries over the last several months, so I think for him it was nice where he got kind of knicked up and banged up throughout the game and felt pretty good.”
While foul trouble late in the game let Dartmouth get back into double digits, Fordham was able to lock into the last four minutes and keep the Big Green from regaining any semblance of a lead. As the final buzzer rang, the Rams threw their arms up to hype the Herd over their 88-74 victory, kicking the season, and Coach Urgo’s head coaching career, off with a win. According to Urgo, who had several family members in attendance to watch the game, Monday night could best be described as “an incredibly proud moment.”
“Unfortunately, my father couldn’t be here, he’s out of town, but there’s nothing that makes me more proud. I can’t wait to call him tomorrow and give him an update on the game.”
Looking ahead, Fordham will look to clean up their defense and avoid foul trouble in their game against Arkansas, currently ranked 10th in the nation, in Fayetteville on Friday.