By Sam Belden
It took two overtime periods and a little bit of luck, but the Fordham women’s basketball team will officially head to next week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament with a win in its final regular season contest. On Wednesday night, the Rams turned in a balanced offensive effort on the road and picked up their 11th conference victory, defeating La Salle by a score of 66-61.
The Explorers got a massive performance from their senior guard Amy Griffin, who scored a staggering 37 points in 49 minutes of play. However, Fordham’s stifling defense in overtime helped them to ultimately outlast the opposition.
The two sides began the game on relatively even footing. While the Rams attempted to implement their usual strategy of three-pointers and defense, they were cold from behind the arc to start the game, missing five of their six attempts in the first quarter — senior guard Hannah Missry was the only one who managed to score from deep. They got a healthy dose of inside scoring to make up for it, though, and took a 14-10 lead into the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the Rams, that kind of penetration completely evaporated in the second quarter. They were held to just two points in the period, allowing the home team to make up some serious ground. The Explorers ended up going on an 11-2 run and held a five-point lead at the halftime buzzer, leaving head coach Stephanie Gaitley with one message for her team at the half.
“[I told them to] get tougher,” said Gaitley. “Winning on the road is tough. Do you want to be a good or a great team? That was the challenge of [the] game. Good, you win at home. Great, you win on the road.”
While the Rams trailed by a significant margin, it could have been much worse. They shot just 29.2 percent from the field in the first half, paling in comparison to the Explorers’ figure of 43.5. Star forward G’mrice Davis was on pace for a double-double with five points and six rebounds, but she also committed six first half turnovers.
In the third quarter, however, the Rams snapped back into form and managed to avoid these struggles. Within 20 seconds, Davis got things started by converting on a three-point play, putting her team back within two. Thirty seconds later, sophomore guard Lauren Holden hit a jumper to knot things up, and 30 seconds after that, freshman guard Kate Kreslina made a layup to put Fordham back in the driver’s seat.
The remainder of the quarter featured a more back-and-forth dynamic, but good defense down the stretch allowed Fordham to pull ahead by a nose. Heading into the game’s final frame, the Rams held a 36-31 lead.
The fourth quarter saw the Explorers make a charge that would lead to some riveting late-game drama. Griffin’s hot shooting allowed them to move within one point of the lead in less than two minutes, and while the Rams proceeded to tighten things up, the relentless La Salle offense led to a tie game with 3:47 remaining.
The teams traded buckets, with freshman guard Anna Kelly’s driving ability helping her team to stay in it. A Griffin jumper put the home team up 50-48 with 1:36 remaining, but three failed possessions later, a Davis layup leveled the score once again at the 39-second mark.
La Salle ran the clock down to 15 seconds, at which point Griffin hit yet another jumper to put her side up by two. Davis got a shot off on the other end, but it went out of bounds off La Salle’s Micahya Owens, allowing her another attempt. Davis would not miss twice, watching the ball go in for a dramatic buzzer beater to force overtime. At the end of regulation, the score was 52-52.
The Rams got off to a sluggish start in overtime, allowing La Salle to seize a four-point lead, but the visitors were not done yet. Holden hit one of two free throws at the 3:28-minute mark, and three minutes later, Missry struck gold with a clutch jumper to tie things up. The Rams applied heavy pressure to Griffin on the other end, and Owens’ attempt fell short of the basket, sending the game to a second overtime period with the score knotted at 56.
The Rams finally found their groove in double overtime, with Holden and senior guard Danielle Burns helping them to start on a 5-0 run. La Salle tried to battle back, but the Fordham defense held. The Rams scored just three more points in the game, all at the foul line, but it was enough to hold on for the victory.
Despite committing nine turnovers, Davis was the top player on the team; in addition to her buzzer beater, she scored 14 points and 14 rebounds. Holden, Missry, Burns and Kelly all joined her in double digits in the points column, signifying a great team win.
With the victory, the Rams will take a bit of momentum into the first round of the A-10 Tournament, in which they will face Davidson. The Wildcats have gone just 6-22 this season, but they beat Fordham 52-51 in the last meeting of the two teams. At this point, every game is win-or-go-home; if the Rams triumph, they will advance to the remaining tournament rounds, slated for next week in Richmond, Virginia.
“I think you’re going to see more of a defensive effort from us,” Gaitley said of the upcoming matchup. “We have a couple days off to prepare and I think we always respond well to that. Hopefully we can make sure our game’s going offensively and put both [offense and defense] together.”
Fordham will host Davidson on Sunday in the Rose Hill Gym. The opening tip is set for 2 p.m.