After an exhibition win against Caldwell last week, the Fordham women’s basketball team travelled to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Lady Lions to open the 2015-16 season.
Head coach Stephanie Gaitley lost Emily Tapio, Tiffany Ruffin and Taryn Durant to graduation, but said she looked forward to the opportunity for a fresh start after falling to St. John’s University in the NIT tournament. “Any time you start a new year there’s a lot of excitement because every team takes on a new identity,” she said. That new identity will be dependent upon a roster with 10 of 16 women being freshman or sophomores, and the leadership of senior center Samantha Clark and senior guard Khadijah Gibson.
But the roster wasn’t the only difference for the women this year. NCAA decided to break up women’s games into four quarters instead of the traditional two halves, and also placed a team in the double bonus after just five fouls in a quarter (which would be reset after every quarter).
The young Rams took on this new format with on Sunday, Nov. 15 against the 1-0 Lady Lions, and the game featured a little bit of everything. Sophomore forward G’mrice Davis got the scoring started for the Rams in the first quarter with a jump shot just 24 seconds in to make it 2-0 Fordham, and scored the next two points of the game 2:26 later. Penn State started the game very slow, and didn’t score its first points until 4:34 left in the first quarter, when senior transfer Brianna Banks, from the University of Connecticut, put in a jumper to make it 6-2. Fordham did an excellent job early keeping a taller Penn State team out of the paint and settling for outside shots that were not falling. However, the Rams were unable to take advantage as their shooting percentage was also low out of the gate. The Lady Lions ended the first quarter on a 10-2 run giving them a 10-8 lead over the Rams.
In the second quarter, Penn State’s offense started to get going. Seven unanswered points put the Lady Lions up 17-8, and the score went as high as 25-10 before a Clark layup broke up a drought of over three minutes for the Rams. The difference in this quarter was 6’6 center Candice Agee for Penn State. The Lady Lions began to figure out a way to break though the mixed zone and man defense Fordham was showing them, and once Agee received the ball on the low block it was difficult for Fordham to cover her. The pressure the Penn State defense was putting on the young guards of Fordham was also providing a ton of problems for the Rams, creating turnovers and fast break opportunities for the Lady Lions. Davis didn’t see much time in the second quarter after taking two early fouls in the first, which also hurt the Fordham offense. Fordham was able to cut the deficit down to as low as nine, but Penn State ended the half up 31-20.
The third quarter was a strong one for the Rams. After five points to start the quarter for the Lady Lions, Fordham responded with three baskets, two from Davis and one from Clark, to cut the Penn State lead back down to 10. The Rams did a much better job limiting Penn State’s chances in the third, but were unable to take advantage of long stretches without points for the Lady Lions, as they struggled to hit outside shots themselves. Penn State eventually got the lead back up to 14, but Fordham fought back and ended the third with a three from junior forward Danielle Burns to make it 51-42 Lady Lions heading into the final quarter of regulation.
In the fourth, junior guard Hannah Missry hit her first three pointer of the day to cut the Penn State lead down to eight with 7:44 to play, but two straight scores brought the deficit back to 12 at 57-45. The Rams continued to fight, scored seven unanswered points to make it 57-52. The lead for Penn State remained at five after another Missry three made it 62-57, but lady Lion freshman guard Teniya Page answered with a jumper to put Penn State up by seven. Page then stripped the ball from sophomore guard Asnate Fomina and scored two more fastbreak points to go up 66-57, and Fordham was unable to recover, eventually falling 75-59.
Davis (15), Clark (14) and Burns (10) all finished in double figures for the Rams, with Burns and Clark each adding eight rebounds while Davis picked up nine. For the Lady Lions, Banks ended the game with 22 points, a career-high, and Agee chipped in 12 with seven rebounds in just 18 minutes of play.
It was a tough game for the Rams, who faced a Big 10 opponent in Penn State that was very physical and had a height advantage down low. It was also the Rams first game of the season, and with a young group of guards there was bound to be a few expected speed bumps and mistakes. The 0-1 Rams return to the Bronx for their next game, when they face Manhattan College on the road in the Battle of the Bronx on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.