Jeff Neubauer didn’t show any emotion as Antwoine Anderson capped a memorable night at Rose Hill by drilling a step-back jumper to beat VCU 69-67 in overtime. Not a fist pump, nothing.
Even after the game, he downplayed the significance of the victory, and perhaps rightfully so. After all, Fordham is still just 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the Atlantic-10 with 12 regular season games remaining. Losing most of those games could still lead to a record in line with many other past seasons for the program, which – as you probably already know – has not tasted much resembling success since moving to the Atlantic-10 two decades ago.
But on Wednesday night, to paraphrase Herb Brooks in Miracle, Fordham stayed with VCU and Fordham shut them down. And while they might not have been the greatest college basketball team in the world, they beat a program that has been to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and a Final Four, and had a 54-19 record as a member of the A-10 before Wednesday. For Fordham, who posted its second winning record since 1992 (the last time they graced the NCAAs, as Patriot League champ) in 2015-16 and has just one winning conference record in the Atlantic-10 ever, it was a night for hope. Hope that someday they could, maybe not be among the conference’s elite, but at least compete, and someday have their name called on Selection Sunday.
“We had a win a week ago at Davidson that I’m as proud of as any win I’ve been a part of in my twelve years as a head coach, and obviously Davidson’s a great team and that’s part of it, but the other part is our group has been through more adversity than I have ever seen a team deal with as far as injuries and illness,” Neubauer said, “We’re not the only team in the country dealing with that, but our team has seen a lot, and so for us to get that win at Davidson last week showed a lot about the character of our guys, and I think this one does too. We had a lead, VCU came back and took the lead in the second half; the game went to overtime, VCU was up five in overtime. Our guys showed a lot of resilience.”
— Drew Casey (@Drew__Casey) January 19, 2017
It’s easy to make fun of losing programs, and Fordham is high on the list of futility in the recent past, but Wednesday was everything Neubauer thinks he can bring the Bronx. The student section was largely full, ancient Rose Hill was loud, and his unorthodox defense was giving VCU fits, holding them to 0.61 points per possession in a first half that saw them lead 32-20. His offense is still a work in progress, but it was Neubauer’s strength at Eastern Kentucky, so he’s hoping that will come.
VCU never led in regulation, but looked as if it had fended off the upset bid when it grabbed a 5-point lead midway through overtime. But – perhaps at long last – this was Fordham’s night. Antwoine Anderson had a monster game on both ends of the floor, and it was fitting that he hit the winning shot.
“We just wanted to stay with it and stick together,” Anderson said. “That was the biggest focus that we had today. We knew that they were going to come out and hit us in the mouth after halftime, and we knew that once we got down those five points, I just grabbed the team together and said, ‘we’re gonna win this game and we’re gonna stick together. All we gotta do is protect the basketball.’ ”
— Mike Watts (@MikeWattsOnAir) January 19, 2017
What else did we learn Wednesday night in a thriller at Rose Hill?:
- A crippling loss for VCU
The Atlantic-10 sits in eighth in KenPom, the same place it occupied when it got six NCAA Tournament teams in 2013-14, but the chances of it getting more than three are slim to none, with slim saying his goodbyes at the bar. Now VCU is staring at back-to-back losses to Davidson and Fordham, and although its 14-5 record is certainly solid, it has just two Top-100 KenPom wins at the moment, and neither Middle Tennessee (52) nor Princeton (77) is going to raise an eyebrow with the Selection Committee.
What was perhaps most disappointing for VCU was that they weren’t really prepared for what Fordham was going to do defensively, turning the ball over 12 times in 33 first-half possessions. It is certainly unique, but nothing Fordham hasn’t done in other games this season.
“We thought they were going to come out maybe a little bit more aggressive defensively,” VCU coach Will Wade said. “We prepared for them to be aggressive, and they started off playing off some of our guys and sitting way back. We changed our offense at halftime and that helped us a little bit, but it was too little, too late.”
VCU also posted just six offensive rebounds (19.4%) against one of the poorest rebounding teams in the country, with Mo Alie-Cox posting just two and finishing with a bizarre line in which he fouled out in 35 minutes without attempting a shot.
“It’s really disappointing, yeah,” Wade said. “They beat us on the glass, which is disappointing. We’re a good rebounding team, and we didn’t rebound the ball well tonight.”
2) Hats off to Antwoine Anderson
He finished with 15 points and the game-winner (which he also did last year against Rhode Island), but his biggest contribution was dealing with VCU’s Havoc, posting just one turnover in 40 minutes despite being harassed all over the floor and needing to squirm out of double-teams all night. By night’s end, he was exhausted, but victorious, a trade-off he’ll take every time.
“Coach has been preaching since he’s been here that we need to have value for the basketball, and I knew in order for us to win tonight, we had to value the basketball because they’re really good at turning teams over and converting on the other end,” Anderson said.
3) And the supporting cast as well
Other than Anderson, perhaps the happiest player for Fordham was freshman Chuba Ohams, who missed two free throws with 20 seconds left in overtime and then fouled out seconds later as VCU tied the game. Ohams, who was a healthy DNP in most games this season who only had eight points in his career entering the game, played 35 minutes and finished with 10 rebounds as a major defensive presence. The free throws were the first of his college career, by the way.
Fordham is now a Top 100 defensive team in efficiency, and if it weren’t for West Virginia, would be forcing the most turnovers in the nation, meaning someone like the lengthy Ohams could fit right in to Fordham’s future. With Joseph Chartouny and Christian Sangfelder, that might be a core that can win a few games going forward.
“Chuba Ohams adds a lot to our team,” Neubauer said. “I didn’t play him much until the last six minutes in here against St. Joe’s, and then he played double-figure minutes at Davidson, 30-some-odd minutes in our last game and now 35 tonight. Chuba adds a lot.”