Men’s Basketball Rebounds with Defensive Lockdown Against George Mason


The Rams turned in one of their best defensive performances. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

They say there is nothing worse than playing .500 in sports. It’s often seen as a sign of a franchise stuck between plummeting toward the draft lottery and pushing for the playoffs, far away from championship aspirations. 

Yet, for Fordham Men’s Basketball, the exact opposite could not be more true. Following a 50-47 nail biting win against George Mason University (GMU), the Rams now sit at 12-13 on the season and are an even more impressive 10th in an Atlantic 10 Conference, where they were expected to rank last out of 14 teams.

Fordham has impressed numerous times this year. Look to the competitive battle against Davidson College in which they led most of the way or the performance against the University of Miami at the Barclays Center as examples of that, even though both games resulted in losses. Sunday was a bit different.

Led by first-year head coach Kim English, the GMU Patriots have followed a similar blueprint to Fordham in a lot of ways. They were not necessarily a team in desperate need of a rebuild, yet English has brought a different caliber to the program. This is emphasized by a number of marquee non-conference wins, including against the ranked University of Maryland and the University of Georgia, both also riding .500 in the A-10.

So, GMU certainly presented a new challenge for Fordham. That is especially true considering this is one of the rare occasions where the Rams held the historical edge, leading the all-time series 7-5. They went on to add one more game to the win column on Sunday, and defense was the reason why.

“He’s unbelievable, man,” said head coach Kyle Neptune when asked about English. “I’m happy we got the win tonight but I’ll always cheer for them.”

Playing in the first Equality and Inclusion game — a nationwide campaign highlighting sports’ role as a backbone for social justice — Fordham held GMU to its lowest point total of the season, 47, while scoring just enough to edge them out, catapulted by a late three from junior Kyle Rose.

As has been the case in a number of recent games, Fordham limited GMU’s best scorer Josh Oduro, who has been leading the A-10 with 18.7 points per game, to just nine points, one short of his season-low. They also outrebounded GMU by a slim 36-34 margin, improving to 10-6 when owning the advantage in that category and limiting the Patriots to a single first half rebound.

Neptune cited Fordham’s bigs as particularly influential in that aspect. Receiving yet another starting spot, sophomore Abdou Tsimbila swallowed up six boards, three offensively. Graduate forward Chuba Ohams delivered another double-double the 20th of his career on 17 points and 12 boards while contributing three blocks.

It’s easy to dilute Ohams’ performances based on how consistent they have become, but Neptune ensures that is not the case. “I cannot say enough about that kid,” he remarked. “He’s in every category, even turnovers. He does literally everything for us on the floor.” 

That attitude stems down to the rest of Fordham’s improving lineup. Neptune credited the guards for stepping in more on the glass, emphasized by three rebounds each from Rose and freshman Ahmad Harrison and six from sophomore Antrell Charlton. Charlton has proven especially valuable for a team without its premier leader down the stretch in graduate guard Darius Quisenberry, who continues to work through a day-to-day injury. Neptune referred to Charlton as “one of the coaches on the floor,” and he finished with six points and assists.

Even smaller names like sophomores Pat Kelly and Rostyslav Novitskyi also made an impact. The former finally received an opportunity to play significant minutes after battling a number of injuries, adding six points and two rebounds while the latter secured two charges over the course of the game. 

Freshman Zach Riley has already made some serious strides, earning notable minutes over the past two games-20 against Virginia Commonwealth University and 14 against GMU-after only joining the team at the start of A-10 play.

“Anything you tell him, he can execute on the floor,” said Neptune. “So especially in tough spots, we feel real comfortable with him out there.”

All of that considered, Neptune chalked Sunday up as “our best 40 minute performance, especially defensively. The guys were just locked in the entire game. Really proud of our squad.”

Neptune cited a four to five minute stretch in the first half where Fordham let things slip away, and they almost did in the end too. Yet, the Rams held the Patriots scoreless for the final five minutes of the game to edge out the victory. Similar to the performance against the University of Rhode Island, Fordham showed a much more potent ability to finish late, something they had not been doing earlier in the year.

“We’ve kinda had trial by fire in games this year,” said Neptune. The results of it paid off in dividends against GMU, specifically for the player who hit the game-winning shot.

“Everyone knows our challenges with the flux in our roster with guys either hurt or leaving our program, etc. So as that’s happened, his role has expanded and he’s stepped into his own,” said Neptune,  in reference to Rose. “I really don’t have to say anything to him. It’s just what he does.” On Sunday, that resulted in nine points on 3-7 shooting from deep. Rose has now averaged 9.9 points over his last eight games as a sign of that expanded role, an “offensive juggernaut” and “defensive stopper” in Neptune’s eyes.

There have been moments this year that raised doubts about Fordham. Look all the way back to some disappointing early season performances, lineup troubles or a rude awakening at the beginning of A-10 competition.

Yet, Sunday shows just how far this program has come in year one under coach Neptune. This game put a gritty, tough Fordham team on display for a national audience.  The fact that it came in a winning effort shows what has changed, not just from a few years ago, but even in a few short months.  Now, Fordham has a chance to avoid day one of the A-10 Tournament.

So .500 basketball may be a desolate place for most, but right now, there is no better place for Fordham to be. They’ll look to reach that mark Wednesday against La Salle University, who they previously beat 69-61, before heading back on the road Saturday to take on Davidson College.