No scoring records were at risk Wednesday night at Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx in the matchup between the Rams & the Knights. Both teams struggled to put that little round ball in the hoop, which set up for a physical battle down the stretch. A late three point attempt by Jahlil Jenkins rattled out and FDU fell to 1-2 on the season, 0-2 against Division-1 opponents. While there is no need to panic this early in the season, the fighting Herendas are going to need to drastically improve their shooting from the outside going forward.
1. Defense and effort was there all night for FDU, and the Knights showed that they are no push over for high major teams. Jahlil Jenkins and company are relentless and do not take any possessions off, and their two primary bigs (Kaleb Bishop and Elyjah Williams), were very solid in their ball screen coverage, regularly preventing Fordham’s guard from driving to the rim. Numerous times on ball screens, Herenda would commend the big for his "show," and the low man for being in the right position and then their rotation out of all of that too. This led to numerous stops and a plethora of contested looks forcing the Rams to only shoot 20% from the outside. Despite struggling mightily from the field (37% eFG%, including just 1-14 from three), FDU entered halftime down just three, and played Fordham, an A-10 school, evenly in the second half. Ultimately, Fordham made just 4 of their 20 three-point attempts, and finished with just 0.81ppp and a 39.3% eFG%.
2. Fairleigh Dickinson had too many wasted trips offensively, turning it over 20 times (30% of their possessions) against just 9 assists. Excluding their win over FDU-Florham, the Knights have 18 assists against 41 turnovers (31% rate, which is near the bottom of D1) in two games. In the matchup against Fordham, the combination of ball screen coverages and length proved to be handful for Jenkins, Brandon Rush and Brandon Powell. Primarily looking to "ice" sideline ball-screens, Fordham forced FDU guards into tough looks all night. The same could be said on any middle ball-screens, where Fordham's big men would switch on to Jenkins. This caused the NEC All Conference selection to settle more than he would have liked (he was just 3-11 from the field, including 0-4 from three). When Jenkins did look to drive, Fordham did a nice job of being in the driving lanes so whenever Jenkins had the ball up top, he would see numerous white jerseys.
3. The Knights’ outside shooting has been something of a concern in the early-going, as they are shooting just 6-28 (21.4%) against D-1 competition. Their lone three on Tuesday night came from freshman Devon Dunn, who has been a bright spot off the bench through three games (5-10 from three). Against Fordham, Greg Herenda’s starters were 0-9 from three, and Knights not named Dunn are 8 for 37. It’s worth noting that Xzavier Malone-Key, who made 44 three-pointers last season (35%) remains out.
4. While all of the reaction may seem to be negative coming off this loss, the Knights do have plenty of bright spots. Coach Herenda’s teams are known for playing with fire and energy, and this team seems to want to match that same level of intensity their head coach gives them. Though Jenkins struggled, he was able to great some great looks for himself when he attacked the rim, and sophomore guard Brandon Powell led the team with 11 rebounds, while the freshman duo of Dunn and Brandon Rush has looked solid in the early going. While the shots might not be falling, never expect FDU to show any lapse in effort or grit.
5) FDU will be an interesting match-up for the NEC this year. At least in the early going, it appears much of the league is putting an emphasis on playing an up-tempo style of basketball, looking to push the ball and create a lot of possessions. However, FDU is one of the few teams, along with Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s, to be playing at a more deliberate pace (66.5 possessions per 40 minutes in their first two D1 games). If FDU can maintain that tempo and teams to play at their pace, they have every chance to win the conference, and will make for some match-ups with teams like Saint Francis, Sacred Heart, Long Island and Bryant. In order for FDU to capitalize completely, they will need to start knocking down the outside shot more consistently, and do a better job of taking care of the ball, all things that with a talent like Jenkins and a returning front court of Williams and Bishop should be able to fix going forward.