Fordham Women’s Basketball Falls in Stunning A10 Semifinal Loss, 60-55

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COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS

The Rams huddle during a Jan. 29 game against VCU. Their A10 tournament run ended prematurely against the same opponent following a fourth-quarter collapse in their semifinal game.

By PATRICK MOQUIN, Sports and Health Editor

Women’s basketball’s semifinal game against Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) shouldn’t have come down to free throws; the Fordham Rams’ 17-point lead in the third quarter should have been enough to advance them to the Atlantic 10 (A10) Championship game. But a resilient VCU team erased the deficit, and foul shots determined the victor in the final minute.

Fordham’s reputation as the best free-throw shooting team in the A10 was tested, and their greatest asset abandoned them in a moment of need. They missed three of their last four foul shots and fell in a haunting 60-55 defeat that ended their tournament run prematurely.

In order to reach the A10 Tournament semifinal, they had to win two games. They won a play-in game at home against St. Joseph’s University, trouncing their opponent 59-36. A suffocating defensive performance and an explosive third quarter by Fordham were too much for the lowly Hawks, giving the Rams their first playoff win and a trip to Dayton for the remainder of the A10 Tournament.

Their first game in Ohio was against Duquesne University, and the matchup would’ve had little significance if not for the game a few weeks prior. In a big upset on Feb. 22, the Rams defeated the undefeated Dayton Flyers, which allowed them an opportunity to contend for second place in the conference. They traveled to Duquesne the following weekend and were stunned in a 74-63 defeat.

Complacency was to blame in that game, and Fordham was not intent on allowing it to happen again. They defeated the Dukes in their quarterfinal matchup, allowing an average of 12 points per quarter in a hard-fought 54-47 game.

A redemptive victory against Duquesne led them to a matchup against the second-seeded VCU Rams. With four and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter, VCU led 7-6. A jumper by Bre Cavanaugh, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’21, gave the Rams of the Bronx an 8-7 lead. It would take VCU 33.5 minutes to regain the lead.

At the end of the half, Fordham led by nine points, 28-19. Cavanaugh and Anna DeWolfe, FCRH ’23, combined for 20 points, and the team’s defense held VCU to a 22% shooting percentage from the field.

Fordham extended their lead even further in the third quarter, outscoring VCU 10-2 in the opening four minutes to take a 17-point lead. They maintained a large lead for most of the quarter, but their opponent began to fight back. The VCU Rams scored 10 unanswered points at the end of the quarter to cut into the deficit, 41-34.

The Fordham Rams had lost momentum, but they still had the lead. They had only blown one fourth-quarter lead over the course of the entire season. That statistic seems comforting until one considers the opponent in that one fourth-quarter loss in the regular season.

On Jan. 29, the Rams traveled to Richmond to face Virginia Commonwealth. They entered the fourth quarter ahead by three points, but it would not stand. They were outscored 23-10 in the final 10 minutes in what would eventually result in a 62-52 loss, one of only five for Fordham in conference play.

They had overcome that defeat in January but could not afford another such loss. Unfortunately, the momentum was against them.

The teams traded baskets for the first five minutes, but Fordham’s offense faltered afterward. For six straight possessions, they failed to score, and in that time, VCU came within a point of the lead. The 17-point cushion had evaporated, but Fordham received a wildly lucky opportunity to extend their lead with 40 seconds remaining.

Kaitlyn Downey, FCRH ’22, was fouled by VCU, a grave error by the Virginian Rams with so little time remaining. Downey had an opportunity to extend the lead to three points. Instead, she missed both free throws, and VCU scored on the next possession to finally take the lead, 53-52. They made an additional free throw 15 seconds later to take a two-point lead.

VCU made another error 23 seconds later and fouled Zara Jillings. It gave Fordham an opportunity to tie the game, but Jillings only managed to make one of two shots. It was the last chance they had, as VCU made all six of their final free throws to escape with a 60-55 victory.

In an official statement following the game, Coach Stephanie Gaitley described the defeat: “Tough loss; credit to VCU, they fought hard and we had some defensive breakdowns at key times.”

The defeat ended Fordham’s hopes at an A10 Championship, and consequently a spot in the NCAA Tournament next week. It won’t likely end their season, as a trip to the lesser National Invitational Tournament (NIT) seems a certainty for a team of their caliber. However, the ends no longer justify the means for a team whose aspirations went far beyond a secondary tournament.

In her post-game interview, Gaitley stressed the importance of learning from the defeat, saying, “I’m proud of our team and hope to use this to fuel us for postseason play.”

Fordham’s defeat in such an important game, under such heartbreaking circumstances, is uncharacteristic for a team that has earned a reputation for consistency and technical proficiency. Next season, many of the Rams’ key players, like Cavanaugh, Downey and DeWolfe, will be returning for another run at the A10 title.

When winter returns and the Rose Hill gymnasium once again opens its doors, one thing will be certain: The loss they suffered this past weekend will be as fresh in their minds as it was on that early plane ride back home from Ohio.