Fordham Women’s Basketball followed a script most teams would envy against the University of Massachusetts on Saturday: build a lead, hold on to that lead in the second half and make free throws down the stretch to earn a victory. Fordham was especially clutch in the finish of Saturday’s game, making all but one of its 12 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. The Rams shot an astounding 20-22 on the afternoon at the free throw line. As it turned out, Fordham needed every single one of those points.
The Rams came out of Amherst with a 69-64 victory on Saturday afternoon in a game in which they led for all but 57 seconds. Fordham built a 15-point lead by halftime and led by as many as 16 in the third quarter, but a late UMass comeback kept the home team in it until the game ended.
After UMass cut the lead to just five, Fordham’s three captains — junior Kendell Heremaia, redshirt junior Bre Cavanaugh and sophomore Kaitlyn Downey — made nine out of 10 free throws in the final 30 seconds to keep the Minutewomen at bay.
Fordham had been under siege in the second half by UMass and its leading scorer, junior Sam Breen. Breen finished the game with 21 points on 8-25 shooting from the field. Breen shot just 2-11 in the first half.
“When you’re on the road, that’s gonna happen,” Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “It’s just part of the game. I thought our kids made some critical mistakes, our shot selection became questionable, and then we gave some three-point plays, but at the end of the day, we did what we needed to do. We came here and got the win.”
The win is particularly important — and impressive — for Fordham in Atlantic 10 play. The Rams and Minutewomen entered Saturday effectively tied in the A-10 standings. Fordham was 6-3 while UMass was 6-4.
With this win and the weekend’s other results, Fordham moved into sole possession of third place in the conference while UMass stumbled back towards the middle of the pack.
“Separation is huge,” Gaitley said. “Every game is huge, it doesn’t matter who it is, but the one thing we have struggled with is winning on the road, and I think this was a great shot in the arm for us.”
Fordham was led by the usual suspects in the victory. Cavanaugh dropped 21 points, including a perfect 10-10 performance from the foul line. Her performance on Saturday continued her bonkers play since the turn of the calendar; Cavanaugh has averaged just over 22 points per game in 10 conference games, and in total, she has scored 41 more points than the conference’s second-leading scorer, University of Rhode Island senior Nicole Jorgensen. Heremaia added 17 points, including 12 in the first half. Downey had 11 points and nine rebounds, and freshman Anna DeWolfe made her share of critical shots, scoring 12 points including a key jumper that put Fordham up 60-52 with a minute and a half to play.
Another significant contribution to the Fordham effort did not appear on the stat sheet. Freshman point guard Sarah Karpell was asked to defend UMass senior Hailey Leidel, who entered Saturday scoring over 16 points per game. Karpell was up for the task, holding Leidel to just seven points on 2-10 shooting despite holding a four-inch size disadvantage.
Karpell, who averages just over two points per game, will be one of the most important players for Fordham heading down the stretch of the season, and Saturday’s defensive performance was proof.
“Once she settled down, defensively, she was outstanding, and she made a really big difference,” Gaitley said.
With the win, Fordham is now 7-3 in conference play with a major opportunity to make up ground in the offing. Thanks to a weekend of backwards results that included a Davidson College loss to St. Bonaventure University and a Virginia Commonwealth University loss to the George Washington University, Fordham is now just one game behind VCU for second place in the conference standings, which would mean a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The Rams will have a golden opportunity to keep pace on Thursday night at the Rose Hill Gym when Davidson comes to the Bronx. The Rams lost 74-62 to Davidson on Jan. 8 in what was Fordham’s worst defensive performance of the season to date.
Davidson is currently one game behind Fordham in the standings and would hold a seeding tiebreaker over Fordham with a win on Thursday. If Fordham wins, it is unlikely the Rams will have to worry about seeding tiebreakers with the Wildcats.
For now, though, it is best for the Rams to avoid these conversations. Fordham will take any win, no matter how it comes. Saturday was no different, nor will any other game be for the rest of the season.