Fordham was the last and 14th seed in the Atlantic-10 Basketball Championship that commenced Wednesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Prior to their game, 12th seed George Mason advanced in the opening round with a 77-70 win over 13th seed Saint Joseph’s
This first day, though, that belonged to the Rams. And they did not resemble a team that finished last in the conference, 2-16, 6-12 overall. Fordham took comamnd early and advanced to the second round with a commanding 72-52 win over 11th seed George Washington.
Thursday night, Fordham will try and keep this going as they oppose 6th seed Duquesne, the finale of six games that tips off at 8:30PM
So, for the first time in five years ,the Rams have advanced to the second round. Then, in 2015, Fordham lost to VCU under coach Tom Pecora.
And for coach Jeff Neubauer, this is the first time in five years he and his Rams’ are moving on in the tournament.
Realizing this conference is one of the elite in the NCAA, and with Fordham the extreme underdog, this win was special. Of course if they advance Thursday, then there will be talk about Neubauer and his Rams playing the Cinderalla story.
Aso realize, Fordham, should they advance, would get one the top seeds in the tournament. Top seed Dayton, also ranked third in the nation, begins their run to an NCAA championship with a noon game Friday.
“The goal of any coach, more importantly of any team is to play the best basketball of the year and that was my message to this team after the game,” Neubauer said. “W’eve been building to this moment at the offensive and defensive ends.”
He said, “This is the best game we’ve played.”
The reality is, Fordham has been an improved team as the season came down the stretch. They also took three games from GW this year, including the tournament win Wednesday,
And the difference maker has come from a freshman Joel Soriano, who got more playing time. Sophomore forward Onyi Eyisi went down with a foot injury in mid February.
Soriano, 6-11, from Yonkers, adds that versatility. He came into the game recording a double-double in four of his past five games. He got the Rams going and put their first two points on the board.
Soriano finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“When we recruited him, its obvious he’s going to be a terrific player ,:” Neubauer said. “It took him a little time to adjust to the divsion 1 level. Onyi, got hurt giving him the oportunity and he seized the opportuity.”
He has been a major part of the Fordham offense. He can also grab the rebound.
“A major reason we played well down the stretch,” Neubauer said about his freshman. And that the Rams did, play well. Beleive it or not, Fordham could have won 12 of the 16 games they lost, and that includes a 10-game losing streak down the stretch.
“Rebuilding my confidence each and every game,”Soriano said. “Work and shoot the ball. Before the game we talked about this. We got the first one.”
Fordham looks like a team with momentum. Now the task is meeting Duquesne. The Rams lost in overtime, 58-56 on the road in their first meeting back in January. Three weeks ago, in their second meeting up at Rose Hill, the Rams made it close and lost it down the stretch 59-54.
But Thursday evening in Brooklyn, the difference could be Soriano. It could also come from the continued consistency of Jalen Cobb (15 points Erten Gazi (12 pointsO and Antwon Portley who added 10.
“He’s been shooting the ball well from three, a big reason why we are playing well,” Neubauer said.
Now the attention turns to Duquesne, a quick turnaround that surprised Neubauer. He said it will be an interesting matchup for Soriano.
“It will be interesting because Duquense is a paint team, they play close to the basket as they can. And other things effectively they do is the offensive rebound.
And the short turnaround, said Neubauer, really is not a concern. Fordham has played a night after day this season In Jamaica. But the coach was caught off guard.
He said, “Iiterally had no idea what time we played tomorrow, was shocked . Our guys will be very happy more than 24 hours to play our next game.. We’ve been through this.’’
“We didn’t beat Duquesne, but our guys really fought and competed overtime and one or two possessions at home. Will be a great game. a battle. It helps us.”
And the Rams have that momentum That is the key.
ADVISORY FROM THE ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE:
CORONAVIRUS CAUSES REMAINDER OF TOURNAMENT TO BE PLAYED IN EMPTY AREA: The Atlantic 10 Conference announced tonight that the 2020 Men’s Basketball Championship at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY., will be played without fans and spectators for its remaining games.
Beginning tomorrow, all remaining contests in the championship will be restricted to teams, network television, working media, essential personnel, and team affiliated families/guests. First round games were played today (Wednesday, March 11) at Barclays Center, with George Mason defeating Saint Joseph’s 77-70, and Fordham topping George Washington 72-52.
“Although this was a difficult decision it’s imperative that the Atlantic 10 act in the best interest of our student-athletes, teams and member institutions. This is a very unique and serious situation given the global impact of COVID-19, and as disappointing as this is for our fans and spectators, this decision had to be made,” states Commissioner Bernadette McGlade. “I want to thank everyone who is and has been supporting our basketball programs this season and encourage all to tune in to our games on our television partners.”
Thursday’s games and Friday’s quarterfinal contests will be televised on NBCSN and accessed digitally on the NBC Sports App, starting at noon. Saturday’s semifinal contests will be aired on the CBS Sports Network, beginning at 1 p.m., and Sunday’s championship game will be televised on CBS at 1 p.m.
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