By Sam Belden
It was a Senior Day to remember for the Fordham women’s basketball team. Coming off of a heartbreaking road loss to Davidson on Tuesday, the Rams soared to new heights in front of an enthusiastic Sunday crowd in the Rose Hill Gym, taking down the top team in the Atlantic 10, the Dayton Flyers, by a score of 66-52.
It was Fordham’s first win over Dayton since the final game of the 2014 A-10 Tournament. That year, the Rams went to the NCAA Tournament before falling to the University of California in the first round.
The Rams entered Sunday’s game with a bit of extra motivation. Comfortably in the driver’s seat for most of the earlier-week game against Davidson, Fordham chucked away an eight-point lead over the game’s final six minutes to lose the game, giving the Wildcats their fourth conference win of the season. However, the Rams followed that defeat up with a solid all-around performance against the Flyers, ultimately landing them back in the winner’s circle.
“You’re never sure how you’re going to respond to those situations,” head coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “You can either go one way or the other, and I thought the [players] did a great job responding. Yesterday was one of our best practices of the year, intensity-wise. The end result was a great, great win.”
Freshman guard Kate Kreslina led the way for the Rams, matching her season high of 19 points in addition to dishing out four assists. Sophomore guard Lauren Holden was also productive, scoring 14 points, her second double-digit total in as many home contests.
The team’s three seniors — guards Hannah Missry and Danielle Burns and forward Danielle Padovano — were honored along with their families in a pre-game ceremony. Missry, Fordham’s all-time leader in three-pointers, managed to hold on to the spotlight for even longer than that, draining one from the corner to score the first basket of the game.
That bucket sparked a 10-4 Fordham run to open things up. Kreslina and junior forward G’mrice Davis both scored in the paint, while Holden connected from deep to give the Rams a nice advantage with around six minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Flyers managed to battle back a bit, but some more timely Fordham scoring, including more threes from Holden and Kreslina, kept them at bay. Through one quarter, the Rams led 20-14.
The second frame began quietly, with neither side managing to score within the first three minutes. Dayton’s Alex Harris finally broke the drought by converting on a three-point play, but Missry answered back less than 30 seconds later, draining another three.
The Flyers then embarked on their most productive run of the afternoon, scoring 13 of the next 18 points to claim a two-point lead with 2:31 remaining in the half. The Rams regained the lead thanks only to an offensive burst from Kreslina, which included four good free throws and a three-pointer with 26 seconds left. At the half, the Rams led 34-29.
In the third quarter, the Flyers continued to vie for the lead, but the Rams managed to retain their advantage throughout. The frame was a relatively low-scoring one, each side putting up 10 points. Fordham got a balanced effort from its scorers, with Missry, Davis and sophomore forward Mary Goulding all contributing with good jumpers to keep pace with the opposition.
The Rams then got a nice boost from Burns, who made a basket off the assist from Kreslina, grabbed the rebound on the ensuing Dayton possession and cashed in again with another jumper just 20 seconds later. Heading into the final quarter, the Rams held a 44-39 lead.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter featured a pair of evenly-matched performances at the beginning — while Dayton continued to threaten for the lead, Fordham seemed to have an answer for everything. The Flyers got as close as two points away thanks to a Lauren Cannatelli three-pointer with 5:18 remaining, but back-to-back turnovers allowed the Rams to reclaim an advantage of six. Dayton fought hard to stay in it, but Fordham was rock-solid at the free throw line and played stingy defense as time ran off the clock. The Rams managed to hold on for a victory in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
The two sides put up nearly identical shooting numbers — 40.4 percent for Dayton and 42.3 percent for Fordham. The real difference came at the free throw line. The Flyers were solid, making seven of nine attempts, but the Rams were even better, going 16-for-20. Kreslina connected on all of her nine attempts, accounting for nearly half of her points.
In addition, Fordham won the battle of the boards, grabbing 36 rebounds to Dayton’s 27, and was solid on defense throughout the day, holding one of the conference’s top offensive units to its second-lowest total in the past month-and-a-half.
“It was nice to see them so frustrated with our defense,” said Missry. “That’s kind of what we do to teams. To take them out of what they normally do, to see them not huddling at the end of games — coach is always big on that — seeing their body language, and knowing that we’re capable of doing that to any team that we play.”
Fordham’s win bounced Dayton from sole possession of the top spot in the A-10 — at 12-3, it now shares that position with Saint Louis University and George Washington University. The Rams, for their part, sit alone in fifth place with one game remaining before the conference tournament, setting them up for one final home game in the first round. If they win, they will travel to Richmond, Virginia, where the remaining teams will compete for the A-10 title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Before that, though, the Rams will hit the road to face one final regular season opponent: the La Salle Explorers, who sit just one game behind Fordham in the conference standings. These two teams last met more than a year ago, with the Rams pulling off a decisive victory in the Rose Hill Gym. However, this year’s La Salle team is a big improvement over last year’s model, so Gaitley and the Rams may have their work cut out for them as they attempt to gain momentum heading into the tournament.
Fordham and La Salle will face off on Tuesday in Philly. Tip off is set for 7 p.m.