By HAL McCOY
For years and years, a trip to New York to play Fordham University was like a leisurely afternoon stroll through Central Park.
It was a game most teams could mark in the ‘W’ column before the first whistle was blown.
Not any more. Now it is like a creep through Central Park at midnight, which no person with all functioning faculties would ever contemplate doing.
THE UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON discovered that Tuesday night in Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx.
They knew going in it wouldn’t be a breeze. They know the Fordham Rams beat Virginia Commonwealth at home and they knew the Rams beat Davidson and UMass on the road.
So, the Flyers tread lightly and gave the Rams proper respect before walking away with a hard-earned 75-66 victory.
IT WASN’T AS EASY as the score might suggest. With six minutes left Fordham owned a 60-59 lead. UD outscored the Rams 15-7 down the stretch.
The victory enabled the Flyers to retain a share of first place in the Atlantic-10 at 7-and-2 and pushed their season’s work sheet to 16-and-5.
It was Dayton’s 13th straight victory over Fordham, but probably the toughest of the bunch.
AMAZINGLY THE FLYERS average only 12 turnovers a game, but they turned the ball over six times the first seven times they had the ball to begin the game.
Fortunately, the Rams are offensively challenged and thrive on defense and forcing turnovers, so UD only trailed 5-3 during the first six minutes when they kept turning the ball over to Fordham.
Fordham stayed in the game in the first half with a blizzard of three-pointers, a facet of the game at which UD usually thrives — preventing threes.
Fordham buried nine in the first half, five by Chris Sengfelder.
Dayton built a nine-point lead, 39-30, late in the first half, but Fordham bombed home three straight threes to tie it by halftime, 39-39.
SOMEBODY TOOK A HOSE to the Rams at halftime, especially Sengfelder. After making 5 of 9 threes in the first half, he didn’t make any in the second half. And Fordham, which made 9 of 17 in the first half, made only 2 of 8 in the second half.
Perhaps the game’s defining moment came when the Flyers trailed, 60-59, with 5 ½ minutes left.
The Rams owned the basketball but it was time for UD senior Scoochie Smith to dazzle his family and friends who populated the stands. Smith grew up three miles from Rose Hill gym.
On this possession, Smith stole the ball and made a quick behind the back pass to ignite a fast break that concluded with a basket by Xeyrius Williams to put the Flyers in front, 61-60.
THEY NEVER TRAILED AFTER that. And with the Flyers on top, 68-64, with 3:11 left, Smith drove the lane and hit a stop-and-popper to push UD’s advantage to 70-64.
Smith scored only 10 point and made only two shots, but took only six and was six for six at the foul line. But, as usual, he controlled the offense and was the team’s settling influence.
The offense was provided by Kendall Pollard, who set up squatter’s rights at the area around the rim and scored 25, making 8 of 11 shots and went 9 for 13 from the foul line.
The Flyers were deadly at the foul line, 23 for 27. They outscored the Rams in the paint 32-26 and outscored them off turnovers 18-14.
Sengfelder led Fordham with 21 but fouled out late in the game. Fordham’s leading scorer and rebounder, Javonte Hawkins, scored only two points on 1 of 6 shooting and fouled out with four minutes left.