Originally published in The Fordham Ram on February 16, 2016.
In head coach Jeff Neubauer’s first trip to Richmond since his time as an assistant coach from 1996 to 2002, Fordham and the Spiders faced off in a well-fought game on Saturday. Ultimately, Fordham was unable to hold onto a late lead, falling 71-67.
Senior guard Mandell Thomas was still absent from Neubauer’s rotation due to an ankle injury. Also notably absent for the Rams was junior guard Jon Severe, who played just six minutes against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday.
The game started off at an exceptionally slow pace. Neither team broke into double digits until the 15:39 mark, when sophomore forward Christian Sengfelder drained a three to make the score 10-6 in Fordham’s favor. In terms of scoring, the rest of the half was as plodding as its first five minutes. The Spiders hit a pair of free throws 20 seconds later to make the score 10-8, but the next basket did not come until the 13:53 mark, a three from freshman guard Joseph Chartouny to push Fordham’s lead to 13-8.
The Spiders went on a 12-4 run over the next four minutes to grab the lead at 20-17. However, sophomore guard Nemanja Zarkovic nailed a three to tie the game up. The rest of the half settled back into the back-and-forth rhythm that had been established before the Spiders’ run. A layup from senior forward Ryan Rhoomes put the Rams up 30-26 at the half.
Fordham’s big men rose to the occasion in the first 20 minutes. Sengfelder continued his breakout stretch of games, tallying nine points and nine rebounds. Rhoomes contributed to the effort with nine points and six rebounds of his own. The Rams committed seven turnovers in the first half but forced six from Richmond, three off of steals. The Rams seemed to be settling for threes rather than good looks, making just four of their 15 three-point attempts.
The second half started off in the same manner as the first, but a greater sense of urgency started to build as the game reached its final moments. Eventually, the Rams were able to harness this urgency into the largest lead of the game for either side. With around 7:30 remaining, the Rams went on an 8-1 run to push their lead all the way to nine, the score standing at 59-50. With just over five minutes left on the clock, the game seemed to be Fordham’s to lose.
However, Richmond did not lie down when faced with the Rams’ lead. In fact, it seemed to invigorate them, breathing into them new life that they had gone without since the 12-4 run in the first half. This time, it was a 13-4 run by the Spiders that put them back in the driver’s seat, with a score of 63-62.
After blowing their nine-point advantage, the Rams found themselves in the midst of another down-to-the-wire contest. A pair of free throws from Rhoomes with 1:25 left gave the lead back to Fordham, but only for a brief moment. A Richmond jumper with just under a minute left gave the Spiders a 65-64 lead. Another bucket moments later made it a three-point lead for Richmond with just 49 seconds left. A split pair of free throws for Richmond with 25 seconds remaining made it a four point, two-possession game, one that was seemingly out of reach for Fordham.
Freshman forward David Pekarek rose to the occasion, hitting a crucial three to bring the Rams within one with 18 to play, but that was as close as they would get. After the Spiders once again split a pair of free throws, the Rams, trailing by two, had a chance to tie or win the game with a last second shot.
The ball was in the hands of Chartouny for the big shot, but it did not fall. Pekarek came up with the offensive rebound, but the Rams’ Achilles’ heel, turnovers, would once again rear its ugly head, as he would immediately have the ball stolen from him, effectively ending the game. A pair of free throws following the intentional foul officially put the game out of reach, and the Rams fell by a score of 71-67.
It was the second heartbreak in a row for the Rams, but both of the team’s forwards had big-time performances. Rhoomes netted his sixth double-double of the season via his 19 points and 12 rebounds. Ten of Rhoomes’ points came in the second half. Sengfelder also delivered a strong performance, recording his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 15 rebounds. The freshmen for the Rams also showed up, with Chartouny and Pekarek collecting 13 points apiece.
Despite the crucial late turnover, the Rams did a much better job of taking care of the ball in this game, losing it 11 times. Just four of those turnovers occurred during the second half. Despite the high point totals, their issue was poor shooting. The Rams were simply not efficient, shooting just 35 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. This was in stark contrast to Richmond, who shot 53 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
The absence of Thomas was heavily felt towards the end of the game. Just like against St. Bonaventure, they played a strong game only to collapse at the end. The Rams could potentially overcome with the development of their freshman and sophomore players, but for seniors Rhoomes and Thomas, along with graduate student Ryan Canty, watching these close games slip away in the later stages has to get frustrating.
This was Fordham’s 11th straight loss against the Spiders, and they now sit at 3-9 in the Atlantic 10 and 12-11 overall. They will need to win all of their six remaining games to reach .500 in the A-10, with the A-10 Tournament about a month away.
However, the Rams will first be setting their sights on their next opponent, the Massachusetts Minutemen. Their last meeting on Jan. 30 resulted in the Rams’ most recent win, an overtime thriller. Fordham will take on UMass in the Rose Hill Gym at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17.