NEW YORK (AP) — Vee Sanford transferred to Dayton from Georgetown three years ago because he believed in coach Archie Miller's vision for the Flyers.
Dayton inched closer to the goal of returning to the NCAA tournament Thursday behind the senior guard's perfect shooting day. Sanford tied a career high with 23 points off the bench, and the Flyers beat Fordham 87-74 in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Sanford was 9 for 9 from the field, including three 3-pointers, and made both free throws.
The fifth-seeded Flyers have won 10 of 11 to go from a team with little hope for an NCAA bid to one that will give the selection committee plenty to think about Sunday. Dayton (23-9) faces fourth-seeded Saint Joseph's in Friday's quarterfinals in a matchup of two bubble teams. The Hawks swept Dayton in the regular season.
"It's hard to beat a team three times," Sanford said. "I think we were prepared."
Saint Joseph's won in Dayton 60-57 on Jan. 29 on Langston Galloway's last-second 3-pointer. That ended the month with five losses in six games for the Flyers.
Since then, they've been almost unbeatable, though the lone defeat came in the rematch with the Hawks. Saint Joseph's routed Dayton 79-53 in Philadelphia on Feb. 25.
"We haven't been able to score against them in two games," Miller said.
The Flyers were able to score practically at will against 13th-seeded Fordham. They shot 59 percent from the floor and made 9 of 19 3-point attempts.
Dayton led by 22 points late in the first half but let up in guarding the perimeter early in the second. The Rams (10-21) hit six 3-pointers in the first eight minutes to pull within five points.
"From this point forward, we're not going to be able to beat a team if have that same type of first eight minutes of the second half," Miller said.
Fordham had the ball down 66-61 midway through the half, but Jon Severe forced up a 3-point attempt that missed badly. Jordan Sibert pushed the ball up the floor for a layup that gave Dayton some breathing room.
Sibert finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Devin Oliver had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
In his final game for Fordham, senior Branden Frazier scored 30 points in his return home to Brooklyn. He shot just 8 of 27 but made 10 of 11 free throws and had four 3-pointers.
"I'd rather take one point and a win," Frazier said. "It's bittersweet."
The Rams, who had lost eight straight heading into Wednesday night's play-in game, beat 12th-seeded George Mason for their first conference tournament win since 2007. Back on the court about 17 hours later, they trailed Dayton 14-3 just over four minutes in.
The Flyers will now go after another signature win Friday against Saint Joseph's, which had a bye. Dayton's hot streak includes a road victory over then-No. 17 Saint Louis, and the Flyers' non-conference resume features a neutral-site win over Gonzaga.
They've defeated UMass and George Washington, two of the A-10's other top teams, but not the Hawks.
"It's going to be a dogfight," Sanford said.