Conference play can be a grind. Since the calendar turned to 2015, Fordham’s women’s basketball team has had a game every four or five days in Atlantic 10 play. While the Rams have had mostly good weeks during conference play, none have been as exciting as this past week. Fordham claimed two victories, the first over St. Bonaventure 54-51 on Thursday and then a last second victory in Philadelphia against Saint Joseph’s, 48-47.
“This week was definitely a crazy one,” senior Emily Tapio said. “We look forward to every game and have been focusing on playing with urgency leading up to the tournament. I’m happy we have had close games; they prepare us mentally for the challenges ahead and help us mature as a unit.”
Fordham hosted the Bonnies for the two teams’ second meeting of the year. The Rams took care of business 72-62 in Olean, New York back on Jan. 11, but February’s matchup proved to be much closer.
Three Fordham starters provided the bulk of the offense this time around. Sophomore Hannah Missry led all scorers in the game with 15 points. Junior Samantha Clark scored 14 of her own and Tapio was right there with 13 points in the game.
Notably absent was graduate student Tiffany Ruffin, but she would have her time.
Fordham led for most of the game. After a Missry three-pointer just 87 seconds into the game, the Rams held a lead until the waning minutes. Fordham’s advantage was as high as 11 in the first half, when it led 20-9 with just 3:09 left until halftime. However, St. Bonaventure closed the half on an 8-0 run, bringing the score to 20-17 at halftime.
The two teams traded buckets for much of the early part of the second half. The Rams steadily maintained a six to eight point lead, even extending it to 10 with just under eight minutes to play.
The Bonnies would not go away, and eventually turned momentum to their side. Following the under-eight media timeout, St. Bonaventure went on a 10-1 run to take its first lead of the game with 3:11 left to play and put a game the Rams had controlled most of the way in jeopardy.
The Rams and Bonnies fought each other for the lead in the final minutes. St. Bonaventure claimed as much as a three point lead with 2:21 remaining, but Fordham fought back to take a one point lead after a successful free throw attempt from sophomore Danielle Burns with just 19 seconds remaining.
Enter Tiffany Ruffin.
With a chance to win the game in the final seconds, St. Bonaventure’s freshman guard Imani Outlaw lost the ball to Fordham’s point guard Ruffin, who promptly was fouled and hit two free throws, giving the Rams the 57-54 advantage they did not relinquish.
Not to be outdone, Fordham’s win over Saint Joseph’s was an even closer call.
In a reverse of the St. Bonaventure game, Fordham trailed for the majority of the game at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia. The visitors could not get going offensively, shooting just 28 percent. However, Fordham’s usually tough defense held Saint Joseph in check as well, and the Rams only went into the locker room trailing 27-20.
“We knew we were still in the game with our defense,” Tapio said about the team’s demeanor at half. “We always have confidence in each other and we knew we had 20 more minutes to battle.”
The Rams made a strong effort to chip into the lead early in the second half. They cut the lead to four just five minutes into the second, but the Red Hawks answered quickly to push the lead up to 10, 39-29 with 12:15 remaining in the ball game.
After trading scores to make it 41-31, the Rams made their push. They ripped off a 15-6 run led by six points from Tapio and a three pointer by freshman guard Asnate Fomina, and cut the deficit to one point, 47-46 with only 1:21 to finish the comeback.
Saint Joseph’s ensuing possession saw the Fordham defense stand tall, with Tapio blocking a second-chance effort by Saint Joe’s. The Rams held the ball with 16 seconds left, trailing by one.
After getting its initial shot blocked, Fordham took a timeout under the hoop with 10 seconds left to win the game.
From underneath the basket, Tapio found her way free and laid the ball in off an inbounds play with seven seconds left to give Fordham its first lead of the game. Saint Joseph’s best player, senior Natasha Cloud, drove for their own game-winning basket, but was denied by the hero of the game: Emily Tapio. Final score, Fordham 48, Saint Joseph’s 47.
“[The last play] was drawn up and went exactly to plan,” Tapio said. “It couldn’t have worked better. Like I said before, we just believed we were going to win. We practice special situations every day at practice so we were cool and collected. If you just keep believing, you never know what will happen, as was evidenced by the only lead us having all game was at that moment.”
The dramatic win boosted Fordham’s record to 17-7 overall, 9-2 in the A-10, which is good enough for second place. Not only that, but the win against Saint Joseph’s was also head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s 80th win at Fordham, moving her into second in school history.
The Rams look to continue their hot streak on Sunday, Feb. 15 in Kingston, against the University of Rhode Island. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.