Fordham played two games at Barclays Center in the A10 Championship Tournament. Thousands of fans attended both, contributing to an intense atmosphere. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)
Fordham played two games at Barclays Center in the A10 Championship Tournament. Thousands of fans attended both, contributing to an intense atmosphere.

COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS

One Percent Better Every Day: Rams End Season on Bittersweet Note

An analysis and reflection on the Fordham men’s basketball team’s best season in recent memory

March 27, 2023

The Fordham men’s basketball team’s inspiring season came to an abrupt and heartbreaking end on March 11 at the hands of the University of Dayton Flyers, 78-68, in the semifinal match of the Atlantic 10 (A10) Championship tournament. It was a disappointing conclusion to the Rams’ best season in years, as they crawled out from insignificance and blossomed into a 25-win program — this after just two wins in 2021 and a split 16-16 campaign in 2022.

This year, under rookie Head Coach Keith Urgo — or rather standing atop his shoulders — the Rams had a 25-8 record and tore through their nonconference schedule. Winning 11 games in a row from mid-November to late December, Fordham was unstoppable. It was in this manner that the Rams built an attitude of unwavering confidence throughout the year. And thus, as March came around, it was a bittersweet finale for the Rams against Dayton. After the loss, Urgo reiterated the essence of his team’s brand of basketball.

“Win or lose, all we ask is that everybody gives us every ounce of energy and passion they have,” Urgo said, summing up Fordham’s seasonlong mindset. “That locker room, there were a lot of tears shed, but no heads down because they gave us absolutely everything they could possibly give us.”

Head Coach Keith Urgo led his team to a 25-8 record in his first year at the helm of the program. He was previously an assistant coach for the Rams, and before that was an assistant coach under Jay Wright at Villanova. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

In order to understand the kind of season Fordham men’s basketball had this year, it is useful to put some numbers down. Take the team’s first five games, which is often a good litmus test. In those contests, the Rams lost once — to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that has made, and is currently making, a deep run in the NCAA March Madness tournament, so no surprises there. In those five games, Fordham scored 72 points per game on average and held their opponents to 65.

As the season progressed, it was evident that the Rams were fielding highly skilled players who were performing at their best almost every night. Defensive anchors like 3-and-D Kyle Rose, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’24, and big-men Rostyslav Novitskyi, FCRH ’23, and Abdou Tsimbila, FCRH ’24, were keeping opponents’ scores low. Notably, those three combined for 125 blocks on the season. Rose led the team in steals with 59, an average of 1.8 per game.

It can be said that the Rams’ defense gave even the indomitable Razorbacks a little trouble, as they scored just 74 points, right around their average — keep in mind that Arkansas plays in the elite Southeastern Conference, and thus it is surprising to see that their offense did not produce more against Fordham.

The Fordham fan base was electrifying this season, as thousands flocked to Barclays Center to watch their Rams play. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

And then there were the shooters. Darius Quisenberry, Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS) ’23, was Urgo’s first option on offense. Despite shooting a modest 38% from the field and 31% from 3-point range, Quisenberry was held in high regard for his ability to knock down shots when it counted. On more than one occasion this season, he heaved from well beyond the arc, draining 3-point bombs to the delight of fans.

“Unbelievable final year,” Urgo said of Quisenberry. “What a great career he has had. Forever grateful to our seniors.” 

Quisenberry played through what looked to be a painful shoulder injury throughout the contest against Dayton. When asked about it, Urgo stuttered and trailed off, taking an emotional moment to breathe, before wholeheartedly praising his veteran point guard’s skill and mindset. 

“He carried himself with such great character. He fits at Fordham and bleeds the name on the jersey,” Urgo said. “We knew how much pain he was in, but he just kept playing hard.”

Khalid Moore, GSAS ’23, who landed in the Bronx via the transfer portal, shot a spectacular 58% from the field. His lean, 6-foot-7-inch frame allowed him to make the classic back-to-the-basket and mid-post positions his speciality. He excelled on cuts inside, and his length gave him an edge on both his first step and his finishing. Antrell Charlton’s, FCRH ’24, gifted pull-up jumper and Quisenberry’s ball-dominant play style were effectively rounded out by the addition of Moore. 

“He came here with a vision. He achieved that for sure and gave us everything he got,” Urgo said of Moore. “He was very humble; a lot of times transfers think they’re bigger than the program. For the better part of a month, he wasn’t seen or heard to the point where we had to say, ‘Look man you’re the best player on the floor most of the time, you can start being vocal.’”

Considering those veterans, all the Rams needed to be unstoppable on offense was a 3-point specialist. They found it in Will Richardson. FCRH ’26, a three-star recruit from New Jersey. After a rocky early season, Richardson shook off the nerves and posted a 45% mark from long range. His development earned him a starting spot in conference games, and he was integral to the Rams’ versatility and adaptability on that end of the court.

“Will’s done nothing but win his entire career,” Urgo said. “The kid’s work ethic is absolutely through the roof, so there’s no question that throughout the year he continued to get better.”

Darius Quisenberry, GSAS ’23, in his final year, averaged 17 points per game and shot 31% from 3-point range. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

Richardson was stoic after the loss against Dayton. He reflected on his short time at Fordham by looking ahead, telling reporters he would probably be in the gym tomorrow, already working on getting better. He feels that he embodies Urgo’s mantra: getting 1% better everyday.

“He’s crazy; he’s not kidding. He’ll be back tomorrow.” Urgo said. “That kid will be in the gym. I’ll beg him not to be, but he’ll be there because that’s what he does. Some guys like it, some guys love it. He lives it.”

It’s safe to say that Fordham basketball is in good hands with young players like Richardson. Having already proved himself in the starting lineup this year, he’s on his way to being a face of the program as Quisenberry, Moore and Novitskyi make their exits.

Among the great contributors for the Rams, it would be negligent to understate Urgo’s impact. His presence and energy on the sidelines was unmatched, and his boisterous attitude often made it feel like he was the biggest man in the Rose Hill Gymnasium, or any gym for that matter.

Urgo’s leadership has evidently changed the way the Rams play basketball. Fordham not only knows what it’s like to win, but it also knows how to play dynamic basketball. Translating defense into offense, running fundamental sets and playing to everybody’s strengths are qualities to expect from a successful Fordham basketball program for the near future.

The Preconference Schedule

It was probably for the best that the Arkansas game came so early in the year. It was a reality check for the Rams and in Richardson’s words, a reminder: “Don’t get too high when things are going good, and don’t get too low when things are going bad.”

In all likelihood, it set up a culture of hard work and cautious optimism that propelled the Rams to their historic 11-game winning streak, their longest since a 14-game streak in the 1990-91 season. From the jump, it was clear that the team had undergone a total renewal. 

In a Dec. 6 matchup against Wagner College, the Rams shot 46% from the field while holding their opponents to 40%. Rose recorded a plus-minus of 24. Across the season, it was common to see him post above 20 in this statistic, which broadly measures a team’s success when a particular player is on the floor. Some of the best college ball players in history averaged around 16.

Will Richardson
Will Richardson, FCRH ’26, has grown into his role as a starting guard for the Rams. Despite his inexperience, he was the best long range shooter for the team, draining shots at a 45% rate. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

The preconference schedule was also a time when Fordham fans began to notice the Rams’ success. Across many of the early contests, the Rose Hill Gym was nearly empty. By the time the A10 schedule rolled around, the gym was regularly hosting over a thousand fans.

This includes their first conference game, an unfortunate 82-58 thrashing at the hands of Dayton to break the Rams’ winning streak on Dec. 28, in the middle of winter break where 1,700 fans showed out. What Urgo has come to call “Rose Thrill” showed out again, with another 1,700 fans in attendance for the Rams’ 85-70 takedown of George Washington University a month later.

The A10 Kicks Off

All that excitement was quickly tapered by a tough slate of conference games. The A10 was harsh at first for the Rams. Despite now having an enormous and dedicated fan base behind them, the Rams lost three of their first four conference matchups. Quickly picking themselves up, Fordham went on a five-game win streak beginning with a tense, buzzer-beating 64-62 victory against LaSalle University on Jan. 14 and ending on a high note with a 75-65 win over St. Louis University at home on Jan. 31.

As the schedule wore on, the Rams faced tough opponent after tough opponent. Eventually, with two emphatic victories — one against the University of Rhode Island, 74-71, and another against Duquesne University, 87-60, in their final game of the regular season — the Rams settled in the standings at a comfortable third place. It not only offered them two byes in the coming tournament, but it also guaranteed that anybody coming their way would give it their all. Urgo believes that trend is bound to continue.

“We’re a winning program now,” Urgo said. “There’s expectations of winning.” Fordham is likely to be a top target for contending teams next season. But the Rams weren’t thinking about next year as the regular season ended. They had their sights set on Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the A10 Championship tournament, which grants an automatic NCAA March Madness bid to the winner.

The Tournament

The bracket kicked off on Thursday, March 10 for the Rams, as they faced off against the LaSalle Explorers. In the previous outing, Fordham barely scraped by off a game winner by Charlton. The Rams shot 39% from the field that game to LaSalle’s 47%. However, Fordham made more total shots, including seven threes. Moreover, what kept the Rams in that game was free throw shooting, or rather the lack of it by their opponent.

In the tournament game, Fordham kept the Explorers’ shooting low, below 40%. However, the first half was an even contest, as both teams traded large runs. Because of this, the Rams were being pushed on offense and had to rely on Moore’s interior skill, Tsimbila and Novitskyi’s size, and a fast-paced penetrating play style that rewarded both Moore and Quisenberry. 

Moore ended the period by extending Fordham’s lead to 11 off a 3-pointer and a two-handed dunk to beat the buzzer. Entering the half-time locker room, the onus was on the Rams to keep up the pressure. Early in the second half — following a devastating 11-2 run by the Explorers — Urgo revealed his hand, deploying a zone defense that was so effective LaSalle went on a five minute scoring drought.

khalid moore
Khalid Moore, GSAS ’23, recovers the ball against Dayton. Moore scored 24 points and reeled in seven rebounds in the final game of his college career.
(COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

It was a spectacular night for both Moore and Quisenberry, despite an atrocious 28% performance from the 3-point line by the team. The Explorers fared no better; in a testament to the Rams’ defense, LaSalle shot just 25% from long range. And the defense was undeniably the story of the game.

Novitskyi started the night hot in the paint, riling up the thousands of Fordham fans in attendance with his gritty and physical shot contests. He ended the game with six blocks, a career high.

The Rams won, 69-61, to the jubilant roar of thousands of students and alumni. No one seemed to care that the Rams shot just 50% from the free-throw line. Fordham advanced to the semifinal round against Dayton with confidence and momentum.

“We’ve got to defend and rebound and be tough and nasty if we’re going to compete at the highest levels of this league,” Urgo said,  reflecting on Fordham’s winning culture.

Come Saturday, March 11, the atmosphere was tinged with the feeling that anything was possible. Both the Rams and the Flyers are elite programs in the A10, and it was by all accounts, a duel of giants. Both teams were on fire from the field, and defenses on both sides were struggling to keep up. Richardson showed out, proving his mettle against the best. He hit four-of-seven from outside the arc and scored 16 points. Moore scored 24 on three-of-six shooting from the 3-point line.

Keith Urgo
Kieth Urgo stands as the Rams’ fate is sealed in the final minutes of the game against Dayton. Urgo was often the loudest voice on the sidelines. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

But it wasn’t enough. Dayton has a fantastically skilled squad, which negates any effects of their relatively small rotation. A key player for the Flyers, Toumani Camara, Dayton ’24, had a nearly perfect, 12-of-13 night from the field. It was a valiant effort for the New Yorkers, as they stayed within reach throughout most of the second half. A 3-pointer from Richardson brought the Flyers lead down to 1 with six minutes remaining. 

Fordham came apart at the seams following this, and the game ended with Dayton on top, 78-68. Camara punctuated the painful defeat with a fast break dunk in the final three seconds. Emotions ran strong, but it’s important to remember the bigger picture: Fordham lost that night, but for the first time in years, it is now a winning program. 

The Rams have exploded into a contending spot in the conference, and as the program still processes the loss, next year approaches steadily. Urgo and his team have proved they can be on top — now they just need to stay there.



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About the Contributor
Photo of AURELIEN CLAVAUD
AURELIEN CLAVAUD, Photo Editor and Assistant Sports & Health Editor

Aurelien Clavaud (he/him), FCLC ’25, is a photo editor and an assistant sports & health editor at The Observer. He majors in international political economy and loves photography, basketball and writing. He is from Houston, Texas, but has taken a liking to NYC and its frigid weather.

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    James Francis KuntzMar 28, 2023 at 5:29 pm

    Was Fordham not invited to the NIT? Or to the CBI?

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