Fordham Men’s Basketball Stuns Dayton for First Win, 55-54

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COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS

The Fordham men’s basketball team celebrates an upset win over Dayton University. Chris Austin, FCRH ’23 (center left), made the deciding three-point shot that put the score at 55-54.

By PATRICK MOQUIN

After two hapless performances to begin the season, the Fordham men’s basketball team earned its first victory of the season Tuesday night in a stunning 55-54 upset against the Dayton University (DU) Flyers, the defending Atlantic 10 (A10) Conference regular season champions. 

The game came down to the final basket, when unlikely hero Chris Austin, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’23, scored a go ahead three-pointer with 24 seconds remaining.

“From where we were, to beat a team like Dayton, it totally changes everything,” Coach Jeff Neubauer said after the game. “We’ve just been trying to figure out who we are, and in this game, we ran a lot fewer plays, and that allowed guys just to play.”

The game that took place in an empty Rose Hill Gymnasium defied every expectation that could have possibly been conceived of on paper.

The Rams entered their third game of the season as the worst team in the A10 conference from nearly every statistical standpoint. To accompany a middling defense, the team ranked last in every offensive team category except free throw percentage, in which it ranked 11th out of 14 teams. In addition, the Flyers had already competed in seven games before Tuesday, compiling a 5-2 record along the way. The Rams had only competed twice after six COVID-19-related game cancellations delayed their season opener from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30.

fordham player dribbling a basketball and running while a dayton player tries to block him
Kyle Rose, FCRH ’23, dribbles the ball down the court. He made two of Fordham’s three three-pointers in the first half. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

In those two games, Fordham earned its 0-2 record in non-competitive performances against George Washington University and La Salle University. In their season opener against the Colonials, the Rams lost 71-47 while shooting 27% from the field and 14% from beyond the arc. Their second game against the Explorers was somehow worse as the team performed just as poorly on offense, scoring 52 points, but allowed 89 points in a total defensive collapse.

For its part, Dayton’s current team does not appear as strong as it did last season when Obi Toppin, formerly DU ’22, now a forward for the New York Knicks, starred. However, after seven games, they still appeared to be overwhelming favorites against their vulnerable opponents in the Bronx. 

The only advantage the Rams seemed to hold over the Flyers before the game was home court. Yet the game that took place in an empty Rose Hill Gymnasium defied every expectation that could have possibly been conceived of on paper.

After a minute of scoreless play to begin the first half, forward Joel Soriano, FCRH ’23, scored the first points of the game in the paint to put Fordham in front, 2-0. It was the last time the Rams led in the half, as the Flyers quickly took the lead and held it until halftime. 

However, Fordham continued to compete gamely, and Dayton never managed to take a lead larger than five points. The score was 27-24 as the first buzzer sounded.

In the first 20 minutes, the Rams made three of 10 three-pointers, one by Austin and two by Kyle Rose, FCRH ’23. After two games of the team shooting 14% from beyond the arc, this was a vast improvement. 

While Fordham seemed to be playing beyond its previous limits, the Flyers struggled early on. For a Dayton team that shot with 54% accuracy in a victory against George Mason University three days prior, their 35% shooting percentage in the first half against the Rams’ defense was paltry and kept Fordham in the game.

Early in the second half, it appeared that the Flyers had made the necessary adjustments and kept Fordham scoreless for the first two minutes. A layup by Ibi Watson, DU ’21, with 18 minutes remaining lengthened Dayton’s lead to seven points. However, Austin came back just 30 seconds later with his second three-pointer of the game to bring the Rams within four, 31-27.

Much of the rest of the game followed along similar lines, with Dayton lengthening its lead and sparking Fordham to another offensive flurry to keep the underdogs’ hopes alive. However, with seven minutes remaining, the Rams finally managed to turn the tables, setting the stage for a wild, nerve-wracking finish.

After the Rams slowly made their way back to a 43-41 score, Austin made yet another three to give Fordham its first lead since the very beginning of the game. A foul on the play sent Austin to the free throw line, where he managed to complete the four-point play and give the Rams a 45-43 lead.

“It’s hard to go through COVID and lose. It’s hard to go through COVID and not be competitive. For our team to get a win today? Priceless.” Jeff Neubauer, Fordham men’s basketball head coach

With three minutes remaining, Fordham was still clinging to a 50-48 lead when Dayton shifted momentum with a desperate, last-second rally. A two-point jumper by Watson tied the game at 50, and a layup by Jalen Crutcher, DU ’21, gave the Flyers their second lead of the game. 

Josh Navarro, FCRH ’21, managed to tie the game again at 52 with a layup, but another Dayton score left Fordham down two points with 30 seconds remaining. In the team’s final possession, the ball ended up in Austin’s hands once more. 

The role player who scored nine combined points in his first two games had already scored 17 against the defending A10 Conference champions. With 24 seconds remaining, he found the ball again and didn’t hesitate to shoot again in the most important possession of his basketball career. In a moment that decided the game, Austin drained his fifth three-pointer to give the Rams a 55-54 lead.

The Flyers called a timeout before their final possession of the game. In the closing seconds, Watson received the ball in the corner, found separation from his defender and took the final shot of the game just as the buzzer sounded. It hit the front of the rim and bounced away, giving Fordham its first victory of the season in dramatic fashion. The Rams’ bench immediately cleared, their celebration echoing through the empty gymnasium as if the bleachers were full.

Between the pandemic and the team’s poor start, Neubauer recognized the effect of profound adversity on his players and the value of such an astounding win.

“It’s hard to go through COVID and lose. It’s hard to go through COVID and not be competitive,” Neubauer said. “For our team to get a win today? Priceless.”

Until the Rams’ next game Saturday against Duquesne University, Neubauer and all of his players will be riding high as giant killers in the A10 conference.

In 19 games before this one, the Rams had only managed to defeat the Flyers on one other occasion in their entire history, when the two teams met on Jan. 4, 2006, nearly 15 years to the day. This second victory came in the midst of one of the worst eras in the history of Fordham basketball, from a most unlikely source.

fordham player makes a basket over the head of a dayton player
Fordham forward Onyi Eyisi, FCRH ’22, makes a basket. He played for 22 minutes of the game and accrued six points for Fordham. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

The same Fordham team that had shot abysmally from beyond the arc in the first two games of its season made 75%, or six out of eight, of their three-point shots in the second half against Dayton. Such efficiency is hardly imaginable from some of the best college basketball programs in the country, and it certainly isn’t sustainable for any length of time. 

However, the timing couldn’t have been better, as the Rams’ defense smothered the Flyers on a particularly bad night, in which they shot 42% from the field and only made four of 23 three-pointers.

For Austin, the sophomore savior in the Bronx, it’s unclear if this is a star-making performance or just a very good night. For the team, 55 points won’t always be enough to win games, and if they were to play Dayton again, it would be difficult to foresee another improbable victory for the men at Rose Hill. Only time will tell what comes of this victory, if anything. 

However, the future isn’t yet in focus for Fordham, because upset victories like this are unique and special, and they deserve time to be appreciated for what they are. 

Victories like this one, the improbable kind that couldn’t be repeated even if the game were replayed hundreds of times over, are only enjoyed by teams well-acquainted with struggle, and there are few teams in the country more incessantly disturbed than the one currently representing Fordham University. Reality will eventually set in once more, but until the Rams’ next game Saturday against Duquesne University, Neubauer and all of his players will be riding high as giant killers in the A10 conference.

Chris Murray contributed reporting.