February 8th, 2004. That was the last time Dayton won a regular season game in Amherst, Massachusetts. 15 years is a long time. I was 8 years old the last time the Flyers won a game at UMass. The number one song on the Billboard charts was “Hey Ya” by Outkast, “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was the best picture winner from that year and Lebron James was in the middle of his rookie season. Now you might think a drought this long was going to take a herculean effort to end it, in reality, it was pretty easy. Dayton hit the snooze button to begin this game and spotted the Minutemen an 8-2 lead over the first three minutes. Dayton woke up and proceeded to outscore UMass 38-12 for the remainder of the first half. Dayton, at one point late in the first half, was shooting 90% from the field. NINETY PERCENT. They were getting whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted , wherever they wanted. UMass was a depleted team last night, they were missing their leading scorer Luwane Pipkins due to a hamstring issue and had four key rotational players out due to injury as well. UMass was outmanned but the Flyers still needed to take care of business. It was an expected win, a performance that we can all collectively feel good about.
I’m just going to focus on what the Flyers did well in the first half because, quite honestly, I didn’t really pay much attention to the second half. UMass made four of their first five shots from the field, jumping out to an 8-2 advantage before Dayton brought the proper intensity on the defensive end. UD held UMass scoreless for the next four minutes and ran out to a 16-10 lead at the under twelve timeout. Dayton then proceeded to cut the Minutemen’s heart from their chests. Another four minute scoring drought doomed UMass, and Dayton’s lead quickly extended to 34-14 at the under four timeout. Dayton was moving the ball extremely well in the first half and they did a fantastic job of getting easy looks at the rim and continually attacking the paint. Dayton only attempted four three-pointers in the first half, making two of them. Dayton, mercilessly, took a 40-18 lead into the locker room.
Dayton’s first half shooting number were something out of a video game. 14-of-17 from the field (82%), 2-of-4 from three (50%) and 10-of-14 from the free-throw line (71%). The offense was operating at peak efficiency in the first half, a recurrence from recent outings. Since the second half of the VCU game, Dayton’s offense has been the most efficient it has been all season, and it’s coming at just the right time. The second half was a formality, as Dayton extended the lead to 61-33 with 12:46 remaining and saw the Flyers go into full cruise control mode. UD was left with little option lineup-wise, as they only had 4 players (including Westerfield) on the bench. When the clock struck 0:00, Dayton’s fifteen years of Mullins misery was over.
Coach McCall summed up the Minutemen effort about as well as anyone could (which is encouraging because he’s the head coach of the team):
“It was a layup drill for them,” coach Matt McCall said. “There was no resistance at the basket. That’s all we talked about yesterday, having resistance at the basket, protecting the white line. They run the same stuff we do. So we’ve been guarding this stuff since July, and our white line protection was awful, our pick-and-roll coverage was bad. They had us spinning around defensively.”
Obi Toppin is the new dunk king of UD (and your A10 Frosh of the year)
Obi Toppin added another impressive performance to his ever-growing catalog and in the process broke Chris Wright’s single season record for DUNKS with his first jam of the night. He proceeded to dunk the ball on the next three possessions, beginning the stat-padding process to his slam record. But, as Obi has shown throughout this season, he is more than just a one-dimensional player. Toppin finished with nineteen points on 8-of-10 shooting, including knocking down the only three he took on the night (Obi is 7 of 13 from three this season). One thing I love about Obi is his energy. There was a sequence that I want to focus on from the first half: Obi dunks it, gets back on defense, blocks a shot from the help side and then proceeds to run the floor all the way to the block — where he grabbed an offensive rebound and stuck that back for another dunk. That kind of motor from one your better players is a major asset.
Obi’s play continues to be stellar with every passing game and he has firmly taken a stranglehold on A10 Rookie of the Year, he might even be playing his way on to the All-A10 team as well if he keeps this up for the rest of the season. We all knew Obi’s potential was through the roof before the season began, but he has even exceeded the expectations that I had for him and they were very high. I have no doubt Obi will put his name in the draft pool and see where he stands, but I wouldn’t get too worried about him leaving after this year, he still has a long way to go if he wants to be a bona fide NBA draft pick. For now, Grant needs him to remain consistent if Dayton is going to peak at the right time.
Josh Cunningham continued his strong play
Big Josh got a little overshadowed by his frontcourt mate tonight, but Cunningham was just as effective. He continues to display more aggression down low and he’s playing with a lot more energy and determination. I think the realization that he doesn’t have much time left in a Dayton uniform has hit him and now he’s playing his ass off. As I have stated before, Josh transforms this team. When he is getting looks and touches, and is playing hard, it opens things up for the wings and guards to operate and get cleaner looks from three instead of hoisting a contested three with four seconds left on the shot clock. Josh needs to continue performing like this if Dayton wants to do something special in Brooklyn. While Toppin’s play going forward is important, JC’s effort inside gives Dayton an asset no one in the conference can match.
Dayton brought the intensity on defense
I understand that UMass had a depleted roster last night, and that Dayton is the more talented team, but I was extremely impressed with the defensive intensity the Flyers brought last night. After the first three minutes of the game, Dayton proceeded to lock up the Minutemen offense. UMass shot just 34% from the field on the night, (18-of-52) and an abysmal 2-of-14 from three (14%). Dayton forced 21 turnovers and out-rebounded the Minutemen 31-29. With Pipkins out the scoring load shifted over to Carl Pierre, who had been scorching hot for UMass. The efforts of Jordan Davis and Dwayne Cohill put Pierre into a locker and held him to a sub par 2-of-12 shooting, resulting in just 7 points on the night.
Okay, that about covers the UMass game. Dayton did exactly what they needed to do and, for the first time in fifteen years, won a road game in Amherst. Say what you will about Head Coach Anthony Grant, it’s a constitutional right, but he accomplished something that Archie Miller never could: Winning at UMass. Before we close, there’s one more topic I would like to touch upon briefly…
Dayton will not make the NCCA Tournament as an at-large selection
Quote me on that. Dayton is not going to make the field as an at-large simply due to a lack of quality wins. Dayton’s best wins, as of this writing, are @ Davidson, a neutral site victory against Butler, Ga. Southern, and @ Bonaventure. Those wins are not good enough to get us into the tournament, no matter how weak the bubble may be. If they took care of Oklahoma and Mississippi St? Then, sure, I would put UD’s resume up against anyone’s on the cusp of the tournament, but we lost those games so it is a moot point. Believe me, if Dayton makes the tourney as an at-large I will eat my column, but I just don’t see it. Nevertheless, I do think this Dayton team is capable of beating anyone in Brooklyn and making a run. If Dayton continues to play like they have the last couple of games, they have about as good a chance in Brooklyn as anyone not named VCU.
That is all for this one, folks. Rhody comes to the Arena for Friday Night in the A10 on ESPN (A gambling staple). Recon gonna be coming your way later in the week. Ware Red, Be Lowd, and we’ll see ya in the Dungeon Friday night.