NEW YORK -- With all the players Dayton lost to graduation, coach Jim Jabir has been pleasantly surprised by his team's success this season.
Amber Deane scored 14 points and Kelley Austria added 12 to help No. 18 Dayton beat Fordham 68-57 on Sunday night. The Flyers have won 21 of their first 22 games and are off to the best start in school history. Only four other teams have one loss this season -- No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Connecticut and No. 5 Duke. That's pretty impressive company for a team that graduated seven seniors and four starters.
"It's exceeded our expectations -- anyone's expectations," said Jabir, who won his 400th game, including 180 at Dayton. "We have the sixth youngest team in the country, sometimes I forget."
The Flyers (21-1, 9-0 Atlantic 10) led by three at the half before Austria took over. The freshman guard had 10 of her 12 points after halftime, including six during a 12-4 run to open the second half. Her layup capped the spurt and made it 45-34. The lead ballooned to 17 points before Marah Strickland rallied the Rams. She scored 10 points in a 12-0 run to make it 54-49 with 7:30 left.
Brittany Wilson had a putback and Olivia Applewhite a layup to make it a nine-point advantage.
Fordham (16-7, 6-2) could only get within six the rest of the game.
"That's the biggest difference from last year," second-year Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said. "There used to be a fear that we can't do this. Now it isn't there anymore. We used our media timeouts as a barometer. Marah hit those shots quicker than we anticipated and we got back in it."
The Flyers had a scary moment in the first half when senior Sam MacKay was flattened by a screen. She laid on the floor for the entire media timeout and was helped to the sideline. She didn't play in the second half.
"She has a concussion," Jabir said.
Dayton had an adventure getting to Fordham because of snowstorm Nemo. The Flyers were originally supposed to arrive Friday morning, but the flight was canceled. The team debated taking a nine-hour bus ride before finding out that it wasn't an option.
Finally, director of basketball operations Nerlande Nicholas got the team on a flight to New York on Saturday afternoon. The start of Sunday's game was pushed back five hours to accommodate the Flyers.
This wasn't the first time that the Flyers had trouble getting to New York for a game against Fordham.
"This is the norm for us," Jabir said laughing. "Our bus got stuck on the ice in the parking lot two years ago. Olivia (Applewhite) got pelted by the Fordham students in a snow ball fight. We spent eight hours in the building, ate dinner hear, telling knock-knock jokes. It was one of the most memorable trips for us."
The Flyers wore their pink uniforms in honor of former NC State coach Kay Yow. Dayton will be sporting the uniforms for all their road games during the rest of the regular season. The team was touched this season when sophomore guard Andrea Hoover lost a family friend, Carolyn Wheeker, to bile duct cancer. Wheeker was an avid Flyers fan and supported the team at games even while undergoing chemotherapy.
The team will auction off the jerseys at the end of the season.
"It's a great cause as a lot of people are affected by all types of cancer," Hoover said. "You never know when a family member will get some bad news like that. To wear the jerseys we'll remember every day what people go through and how special it is to be playing basketball."
Fordham was trying to earn its first victory over a ranked team. The Rams were winless in its previous 11 chances against Top 25 opponents.
Despite the loss, Fordham is off to one of the best starts in school history. The Rams have already clinched their first winning season since 1994-95. Not too shabby, considering the program set the NCAA record for futility in a season going 0-29 in 2008.
The Rams won 10 games out of conference -- the first time they've reached double digits victories since 1983-84. They've also already won their most Atlantic 10 games since joining the conference in 1996. The team was picked 11th in the preseason conference poll.
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