By HAL McCOY
For 20 minutes the University of Dayton Flyers were flyin’ high against the Rhode Island Rams, the best team, by far, in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
And because they are the best team, Rhode Island was not flustered when UD led by seven late in the first half and Rhode Island led by only two at halftime.
And because they are the best team, they turned the spigot wide open in the second half, making 14 straight shots late in the half and into the second half.
When the smoke cleared from their sneakers, the Rams were up 15 and from there it was like seniors playing kindergarteners.
They outscored the Flyers, 45-22, in the second half and won, 81-56, to clinch their first outright A10 regular season championship in school history.
Despite committing 13 turnovers in the first half, UD trailed by only 36-34 because URI couldn’t find the basket in their own Ryan Center gym in front of a full house of more than 7,000.
But everything fell for the Rams in the second half and a throat-strangling URI defense prevented the Flyers from establishing any type of cohesive offense.
En route, the Flyers lost their composure completely and the Rams played as if it was an unsupervised game in a public park.
When it was 39-38 early in the second half, Rhodes Island went on an 18-4 rampage to take a 57-42 lead and it was all over with 13 minutes still to play.
The Rams are 15-and-1 in the Atlantic 10 and 23-and-4 overall as the nation’s No. 18 team. UD dipped to 7-and-9 in the A10 and 13-and-15 overall.
Jalen Crutcher led the Flyers with only 12 points (four for six) and three Rams scored more than that — Jeff Dowtin with 20 on 9 of 11 shooting, E.C. Matthews with 18 on 8 of 12 shooting and Jared Terrell with 17 on six of 13 shooting.
Trey Landers scored 10 for the Flyers, but Darrell Davis had only four, his second straight game below double figures after he had a streak of 15 straight and Josh Cunningham had only four points and four rebounds.
After starting 0 for 6 from three, URI finished 7 for 19. UD was 3 for 18 from three, 0 for 10 in the second half.
Rhode Island sizzled in the second half, making 18 of 28 field goal attempts (64 per cent) and the Flyers were 6 for 22 in the final 20 minutes for 27 per cent.
Turnovers, as they often are, were a major catastrophe for the Flyers, 22 of them, while Rhodes Island committed only eight, just one in the second half.