By Sam Belden
Amidst the heavy drama of the postseason, the Fordham women’s basketball team was able to rest easy on Sunday night. That afternoon, head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s squad turned in a solid performance across the board to defeat Davidson 62-54, punching their ticket to the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Richmond, Virginia in the process.
Junior forward G’mrice Davis provided her usual double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, both game-high figures. Three other Rams put up at least nine points, and the result was a decisive victory in front of the lively crowd at the Rose Hill Gym.
The Wildcats had won just four conference contests heading into the game, but they played surprisingly well at the outset, getting things started with an 8-2 run. Fordham proceeded to battle back, eventually tying the game off a three-pointer from sophomore guard Lauren Holden with 2:58 left in the quarter, but Davidson continued to get good looks at the basket and forged further ahead. At the end of the first period, the Wildcats led 18-15.
In the second quarter, the Rams attempted to mount a comeback but continued to trail the surprisingly-competent Wildcats throughout. Davidson started things off by extending its lead, eventually claiming a six-point advantage with 6:31 remaining, but the Rams stayed close, using a successful three-point play from Davis and a three-pointer from freshman guard Kate Kreslina to cut the deficit back to one. Fordham would attempt four three-pointers over its next four possessions; the Rams scored twice, but it was still not enough to unseat the Wildcats, who took a 31-29 lead into halftime.
Davidson converted on 54.2 percent of its shots from the field in the first half, a wholly unsustainable rate. While the Rams would not improve on their first half rate of 32.4 percent, a healthy dose of good defense and a steady rain of threes and free throws helped them to mount a charge in the game’s later stages.
In the second half, the Rams wasted no time getting that charge started, with Davis scoring down low to tie up the game within the first 20 seconds. Back-to-back three-pointers from Kreslina and senior guard Hannah Missry put Fordham back in the driver’s seat, and after Kreslina scored another three from the wing, the Rams suddenly held a nine-point lead. In all, they scored 11 unanswered points out of the gate in the third quarter, completely shifting the tide of the game.
“When you’re expected to win, it makes it more difficult,” said Gaitley. “You have to make sure to keep loose at halftime. I thought the first four minutes of the third quarter were crucial for us.”
Fordham inevitably ran out of firepower as the quarter progressed, but the Davidson offense was having struggles of its own, appearing positively overmatched against a Rams defense that was finally working as it was supposed to. Through three periods, the Rams led 46-37.
In the fourth quarter, the Rams got off to a sluggish start — they had to wait more than three minutes for their first points, which came off a pair of good free throws from senior guard Danielle Burns. Both sides continued to struggle on offense as the seconds fell off the clock, though Burns, to her credit, remained an offensive force for Fordham, making two more free throws and a jumper to keep the lead in the double digits with around three minutes remaining.
Desperate, the Wildcats began to foul, but the Rams were characteristically solid on free throws. The home team followed that path to victory, going 10-for-12 down the stretch to close out the game and secure a spot in Richmond.
Ultimately, the Rams made just 31 percent of their shots from the field to Davidson’s 43.1, but it was the free throws that made the difference, with Fordham converting on 17 of 24 opportunities from the line. The Rams also outrebounded the opposition 39-36 and committed three fewer turnovers. With solid defense in the mix, it all added up to a significant margin of victory.
While Davis led the scoring, Kreslina and Burns were also solid, putting up 11 points apiece. Holden also had a strong day, scoring nine points while adding four assists.
Fordham’s next matchup will be its biggest to this point in the season: a showdown with Saint Louis, one of the conference’s top teams, under the limelight of the Richmond Coliseum. In their first-round game, the Billikens beat Massachusetts 91-51. The Rams lost to the Billikens by 24 points in their last meeting, a Jan. 28 matchup in Saint Louis’ Chaifetz Arena.
“I want to pretend that game never happened,” said Gaitley. “That was kind of a turning point for our team. There were a lot of things in that locker room that, between that and the [game against George Washington on Feb. 1], we kind of got away from what got us where we were as a program.
“It was a great learning experience,” she later added. “I have no doubt that we’ll be ready for Saint Louis.”
The Rams will continue their A-10 Tournament run against the Billikens this Friday. The opening tip is set for 2 p.m.