After coming out strong against Dartmouth in their season opener, the Fordham Rams had a tough time maintaining momentum this weekend in Fayetteville, dropping their first away game of the season on Friday to #10 Arkansas, 74-48. While the Rams came out strong in the opening minutes, Arkansas quickly picked apart their game plan, forcing 30 turnovers en route to a near 30-point Fordham loss. While such a large deficit is no doubt disheartening for any team, losses this early in the college basketball season serve more as lessons than anything else.
Here are three things we learned about this Fordham team from their most recent game, and how they can be used to rack up some wins throughout the season.
Spread out the Scoring
In basketball, especially at the college level, having one or two main facilitators on offense is pretty standard, and early on, Fordham has filled that role with Darius Quisenberry and Khalid Moore. Through two games so far, Quisenberry has led the Rams in scoring (15.0 PPG) by making tough, contested shots right inside the arc and under the basket. DQ is effective as a catch-and-shoot guard, but so far this season has prioritized using his speed to force his way through larger defenders and finish at the rim. As an all-around Forward, Khalid Moore has based a lot of his contributions around filling the role that Fordham needs on each possession, whether it be rebounding, scoring, or playmaking.
Early on, Arkansas was able to lock both of these Rams down, and their diminished role in this game reverberated hard throughout the roster. Outside of Antrell Charlton, who took some smart, albeit largely unsuccessful, shots to try and keep Fordham alive, the Rams had trouble falling back on much of their bench to stay afloat. That being said, there were some promising performances from several freshmen who hit the floor on Friday, even if their contributions weren’t enough to close a big gap. Elijah Gray, whose only point against Dartmouth was at the free throw line, finished the night in Fayetteville 4-5 with 10 points. In the final 5 minutes of the game, Gray showed that he can take a tough pull-up three, muscle his way into a mid-range look, and finish strong right under the hoop. With a game very similar to that of Moore, Gray will be a crucial piece of the bench for Fordham when looking to stretch out their forward-focused sets.
Diversify the Pace of Play
In the opening minutes of this one, Fordham hit Arkansas right in the mouth, using their intensity in transition to get some quick buckets for an early 7-2 lead. Defensively, Fordham pressed hard on the perimeter, but seeing that Arkansas has not been inclined to shoot the three this season, the Rams had to hold down the post. At First, Abdou Tsimbila was up to the task, getting in a few poke checks and forcing the Razorbacks to kick out on some uncomfortable shots. In the first half, Fordham boxed out well to outrebound Arkansas 19-18.
Over the past few seasons, Fordham has been able to get wins as an underdog with this gritty style of play, disrupting a team’s game plan and forcing opponents to play on their terms. However, when Arkansas matched Fordham’s style at a Power 5 level, it was a big problem. No strangers to Fordham’s style, Makhi and Makhel Mitchell excelled at defending Fordham in the paint. After two years at URI, the Mitchell Twins joined the Razorbacks via the transfer portal in April, and have already become prominent pieces in Arkansas’ rotation. Makhi Mitchell recorded 3 steals in Friday’s win, leading the way for the Razorbacks as they completely picked Fordham apart in transition. In total, Fordham would turn the ball over 30 times. While Fordham excels in transition, executing better screens and running a few more pass-oriented plays would definitely help the Rams should they find themselves in a similar pinch later this season.
Get More Comfortable Down Low
Heading into this season, Coach Urgo mentioned that Fordham’s frontcourt made a major leap forward (no pun intended) in it’s development, and so far, we have seen glimpses of where each part of that unit will excel; Tsimbila as the defensive backbone, Novitskyi as the one who can muscle his way to the hoop, and the Moore/Kelly/Gray rotation as the secondary facilitators. While Fordham’s forwards play off each other very well when they’re on the floor together, leaving just one big man out at a time accentuates their respective shortcomings. If Fordham could run a rotation that encourages at least two forwards on the floor at all times, or we see Moore and Gray fully embrace a stretch four role, then the Rams could be a very scary team down low.
While turning the ball over 30 times in a near 30-point loss is tough, there are still plenty of opportunities for this Fordham team to learn from this loss and develop into a serious Atlantic 10 contender. Tonight, Fordham will kick off a six game homestand against 2-0 New Hampshire, followed by their own MTE, the Tom Konchalski Classic, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.