“How about Rose Thrill, man?” asked Rams Head Coach Keith Urgo following Fordham’s fifth straight conference win.
From the opening tip on Tuesday night, the crowd in Rose Hill made their presence known. While the energy amongst the 1,800 fans in attendance no doubt emanated from the left baseline student section dubbed “The Herd,” those in the sideline sections couldn’t help but amplify it further. No stranger to playing in loud environments, the Saint Louis Billikens, who entered the game 7-1 in A-10 play, quickly went to work.
While back and forth at first, with Fordham succeeding in some early defensive mismatches, Saint Louis gradually took control of the paint. Leading the effort in this strategy was Senior Forward Francis Okoro. Putting his strength and mobility to full use, Okoro had no problem backing into the hoop on Fordham defenders, either finishing with a hook shot, or frequently pivoting directly under the basket for an underhanded layup. At halftime, Okoro led all SLU scorers with 13 points, shooting 6-6 from the field. At the half, 26 of Saint Louis’ 36 points were scored in the paint, compared to 12 of Fordham’s 31.
“I gotta give credit to Okoro. It [the crowd] didn’t seem to bother him as much as anybody else,” Urgo said, highlighting the poise with which Saint Louis under Travis Ford has played for many years in this league. “Credit to Travis Ford. Unbelievable staff, unbelievable coach. They brought it to us in the first half.”
Despite that poise, as well as a 22-18 advantage in the rebounding department, Saint Louis never could run away with the lead before halftime, only getting up by as much as 7 in the first. Making a few defensive adjustments, Fordham was able to lock down most players around Okoro, forcing iso and severely limiting the impact of Billikens stars such as Yuri Collins. Currently leading the A-10 in assists by a wide margin, Collins was limited to just 1 the entire game, scoring 8 points and committing 4 turnovers.
Offensively, despite a quiet night from three, Fordham kept margins slim by finding plenty of backdoor buckets, drawing trips to the line (6-8 FT shooting in the first), and scoring in transition. As Rostik Novitskyi and Abdou Tsimbila got more comfortable guarding Okoro, these hard-fought buckets shifted the ebb and flow of SLU’s lead from the 3-5 point range to the 1-3 point range. According to Darius Quisenberry, who matched Okoro’s 13 points in the first half, the…