Holmes, Smith combine for 31 points as Flyers bounce back from loss at George Mason
The safest bet every season in the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason poll is picking Fordham to finish last. That’s where the Rams were picked to finish this season by all but a handful of voters. That’s where they’ve finished the last four seasons and many other times since joining the league in 1995, the same year as Dayton.
While Fordham is sliding toward the basement again with four straight losses after a 2-0 start in the A-10, it showed again Tuesday it might contend for something other than a 14th-place finish under first-year coach Kyle Neptune. It lost 68-61 at UD Arena to the Dayton Flyers, a team that beat preseason favorite St. Bonaventure 68-50 a week earlier on the same Tom Blackburn Court.
Dayton (13-7, 5-2) saw how improved Fordham (9-9, 2-4) is while watching film of the Rams’ 69-66 loss Saturday at home to first-place Davidson (16-2, 6-2), which earned a No. 25 ranking in the Associated Press poll this week.
“We know not to under underestimate them,” Dayton guard Malachi Smith said. “We wanted to set the tone early and come out with the W.”
Dayton won, in part, by limiting the A-10′s top scorer, Darius Quisenberry. The Wayne High School graduate, who played the last three seasons at Youngstown State, scored 36 points against Davidson and won the A-10 Player of the Week Award on Monday.
Quisenberry started strong against Dayton, scoring Fordham’s first six points, three at the free-throw line, but finished with 17 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Percentage-wise, it was his second worst shooting night of the season.
“We knew coming in he was on a hot streak and was playing really, really well,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “The emphasis was on trying to make it as difficult as possible on him tonight. I thought our guys made a great effort to try to do that.”
Dayton’s top scorers, DaRon Holmes II and Malachi Smith, could sympathize with Quisenberry because they had similar struggles Saturday in a 50-49 loss at George Mason. Holmes struggled in that he couldn’t get off many shots; he finished with four points on 1-of-3 shooting. Smith got plenty of shots but couldn’t get them to fall; he had 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
In this game, Holmes and Smith again looked like the fabulous freshmen or terrific two who have made this team theirs. Holmes had 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting and made it a double-double by grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds. Smith added 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
The freshmen’s efforts were enough to make this a runaway victory, something Dayton enjoyed in earlier A-10 victories against George Washington, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure. Dayton never could put Fordham away, even after building a 23-9 lead in the first half and a 51-37 lead in the second half.
Fordham got as close as six points in the final 30 seconds by making three 3-pointers in the final two minutes.
“The lessons from tonight,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “were No. 1 we had 18 turnovers, and 13 of them were steals by them, which created extra opportunities for them, easy baskets for them. It’s hard to guard in transition when you have live-ball turnovers. And then the second thing was understanding the importance of the 3-point line. We had a double-digit lead there late. We were doing a great job of taking away most of what they wanted to do. They just started driving the basketball, making the extra pass to the 3-point line. The 3-point line is the great equalizer in college basketball. It can change the game. It got them momentum. It got them back in the game tonight.”
Four straight free throws by Koby Brea and Smith helped Dayton seal the victory. The Flyers improved to 16-0 against Fordham at UD Arena. Their all-time record against Fordham is 33-6. That .846 winning percentage is the best Dayton has against any current A-10 team.
Dayton avoided the upset it suffered last season when Fordham won 55-54 at Rose Hill Gym. It’s possible one of the top A-10 teams will experience the same disappointment at Fordham this season. Prior to scaring Davidson, Fordham hung with Richmond until the final seven minutes but then lost 83-70.
“Watching those games, we knew this would be a very challenging game,” Grant said, “and we’d have to play well to be able to get the win.”
Rhode Island at Dayton, 7 p.m., ESPN 2, 95.7, 1290