Capping off Thanksgiving Break with another win, the Fordham Rams improved to 6-1 on Sunday Afternoon in a highly competitive, 68-60 win against the Harvard Crimson. An Ivy League squad that beat Loyola Chicago just two days before, the Crimson would be Fordham’s highest ranked home opponent (according to KenPom) so far this season.
In front of a nearly split Fordham-Harvard crowd, as most students were moving back in from break, the Rams and the Crimson matched up very closely in the first half. Defensively, both teams pressed hard on the perimeter. As Fordham limited Harvard to 2-9 from deep, the Crimson locked down Fordham on several attempts to drive to the hoop. While the Rams hit 5 threes of their own before halftime, these plays were spaced far out from each other as the Rams struggled to find open looks from deep.
A testament to their improved ball movement this year, the Rams excelled on several kick-out plays to either the three-point line, or mid-range. Leaning into the 4 against Harvard, Khalid Moore drove inside early on, then dished it to Kyle Rose for a right wing three to put the Rams up 7-4. Darius Quisenberry, while off to a slower start than usual, was able to score 10 in the first half, but excelled more on the defensive end with 3 steals. For every big shot Fordham put up to try and grab a slim lead, however, Harvard was able to immediately respond by executing several back door passes. At the end of the first half, the Crimson had outscored Fordham in the paint 10-6.
A big key for Fordham was their defense in transition. Lots of missed shots means lots of rebounds, meaning a lot of attempts at fast breaks in order to get an edge on your opponent in transition. In the first half, Fordham allowed 0 Harvard points on the fast break.
“For us, it’s just about learning how to play fast without turning over the basketball,” said Fordham Coach Keith Urgo. “On defense, it’s really about communication and transition defense. You’ve got to continue to talk and communicate. Teams that are the most connected, or trust each other [the most] usually play a good transition defense.”
While some hot shooting late allowed the Rams to finish the half on a 14-2 run, the real key for Fordham’s early success was winning the turnover battle, another aspect of their game that has been a major problem for them. In a game against a defensive-minded team like Harvard, Coach Urgo was proud of how his team was able to limit how often they gave up the ball.
“I thought Antrell Charlton controlled the game with his effort, his energy, his poise,” Coach Urgo said. “I think what happened was, he came in and [Antrell and] Will Richardson were looking more when they drove into the paint to set people up. Tonight, they were a little bit more aggressive and as a result, it opened some things up a little bit more.”
Fordham would finish the game with just 10 turnovers, their lowest since their season opener against Dartmouth. Antrell Charlton would record 6 assists against the Crimson.
As both teams realized that they were cancelling each other out from the three point line, it was clear that this game had to be won in the paint. The Rams’ frontcourt has shown plenty of times this season that they can step up when called upon, but they had yet to be as dominant as they were against the Crimson, with the biggest performance coming from Abdou Tsimbila. Recording career-highs in points (16), rebounds (15), and blocks (5), Tsimbila stepped up for the Rams in a battle for the ages under the basket against Harvard’s Justice Ajogbor.
In his second season with the Rams after transferring from Penn State, Tsimbila has adjusted to a much bigger presence on this team, something that Coach Urgo felt came to a head against Harvard.
“I think he’s got the potential to be the defensive player of the year in this conference,” Urgo said. “[He had] five blocks, but think about all of the shots he contested and affected an additional 10 to 15 [shots]. Think about how many possessions that is in a defensive game.”
In Fordham’s final run with 2:15 left to play, Tsimbila grabbed an offensive board and spun for a jumper to give the Rams a huge 4-point lead. Snagging another rebound on the defensive end, Tsimbila was able to move in transition and draw contact, sinking a pair of free throws to bring his scoring total up to 16. Two inside drives later from Khalid Moore, as well as two steals from Quisenberry and Charlton, the Rams finished off Harvard with a 12-6 to seal the 68-60 win, improving to 6-1 on the season.
When asked about taking the lead against Harvard, Tsimbila explained that he didn’t feel any more pressure than usual, as each night he hits the floor ready to make a big impact.
“I come into every game with the same mindset,” Tsimbila explained. “Sometimes it works the way you want, sometimes it doesn’t. We are all positive [and] on the same page about just going out there and playing the best game you can play.”
Fordham will finish their homestand on Wednesday night against Maine, before heading to New Orleans on Saturday to play Tulane.