We have always taken pride in being a 9-to-5 blog here at the Blackburn Review, and this weekend was no different. With the BBR staff licking their wounds on Sunday, I simply couldn’t bring myself to write a recap after making the haul back to Chicago, so we shall air out our grievances to begin the week before we look to the Davidson game tomorrow.
Look, it’s Monday, so let’s just get straight to it: going down 22 points at home in your biggest game of the year is flat out embarrassing. With that atmosphere, that crowd, the student section, an entire week off, it’s absolutely inexcusable. Over the course of Grant’s tenure at UD so far, his teams have had an undeniable tendency to go cold and play uninspired offensively for large, continuous stretches, and Saturday evening was no different. It was obviously compounded in this game because the building was as ready to go as any game I’ve ever attended, and UD let VCU completely take the crowd out of the game by the midway point in the first. We didn’t know it at the time, but in hindsight, it was the beginning of the end, even if the end was particularly climactic.
In fairness to the overall game, UD did come out with some fire in the first five minutes, and Chip Mikesell plopped in seven of the Flyers first eight points to get things going. However, after trading buckets to get to a 12-12 score at 14:40, the Flyers inexplicably gave up a 14-0 run to the Richmond Rams that silenced the building while UD tripped all over their dicks and failed to score a single point for six minutes. The building would not return to make any difference in the contest until about the 12-minute media TO in the 2nd half. The Flyers did their damnedest to minimize the damage once they got back in the score sheet (due in large part to a spectacular game by the Chipster) but VCU once again caught fire from deep and went into the break up 12 behind 6-for-13 3pt shooting and overall ending up just over 50% from the field. How VCU continues to be able to light it up against UD and struggle shooting against the rest of the conference is a conversation for another day.
I knew eventually I would be recapping this game, and I still haven’t found a proper adjective to describe how UD came out in the first 2 minutes of the second half. Back against the wall, down 12 at home, and knowing they needed to win the first four minutes before the timeout, UD proceeded to miss two quick jumpers and commit a turnover, while VCU scored 10 points in just over 100 seconds of gameplay. This was the stretch that lost Dayton the game, point-blank. If they don’t go down 22 immediately to start the second, chances are pretty good they figure out how to win (I mean, they almost figured out how to win even with this deficit). Credit where its due to De’Riante Jenkins having one of the best shooting nights of his season, finishing with 19 points on 7-for-12 from the field and 5-for-7 from deep. In the 6 games leading up to this contest, Jenkins was 5-for-25 from deep. I dunno, guys. Guys not named Jenkins went 3-for-16 from three, which was frankly expected from this VCU roster.
However, as you know, just when it looked like this was going to be a one-sided affair, UD finally woke up. From the 18:04 mark of the second until the 4:50 mark when an Obi dunk took the lead for the Flyers, UD outscored the Rams 31-8. THIRTY-ONE TO FUCKING EIGHT! If you’re into moral victories after a loss like this one you’re reading the wrong blog. If this Dayton team is capable of outscoring one of the best teams in the conference that badly over a 14-minute stretch, you’re going to have a very difficult time convincing me they don’t have the talent to beat every single team in the league handedly. The frustration from those fans who are vocal about the Flyers woes comes from the understanding that the second half is what UD is capable of, but they have rarely played at that level for an entire 40 minutes, especially since A10 play began. I know UD was short-handed, and yes, the absence of Trey Landers hurt them greatly on the boards, but simply put: UD’s top 6 is more talented than any other top 6 in the A10 conference. Fight me.
OH MY GOD WE HAVE THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/N0fQuWLVyZ
— paco (@AllaireMatt) February 16, 2019
— Flyer Faithful (@Flyer_Faithful) February 16, 2019
So with the building set ablaze, the arena pumping music noticeably LOWDer than ever, the students losing their shit, and very few Flyers fans sitting down; UD found themselves up 1 after a Jordan Davis three-pointer…the only shot he would make all night. (sigh) Isaac Vann dropped in a few FTs, Obi Toppin munched another bucket to answer and retake the lead, but sadly missed his “and-one” FT, keeping the Flyers lead at one with 15 seconds to go. I know many of you may have come here to discuss the final play of the game where Obi may or may not have been fouled, but truthfully the opportunity to win the game was following the Obi missed FT. The year the Flyers won the conference against VCU, stingy defense and forcing a bad shot from the Rams was the play that won UD the game. Alternatively, not being able to stop VCU on the most crucial possession of the game was how they lost on Saturday. Many will argue the Flyers were fortunate to even be in that position after facing such a deficit, and while credit must be given to how the boys fought and rallied around the building, this is just another reminder in a season full of them that you need to play 40 minutes to win games in the Atlantic 10. Let’s get to the takes, the players will be getting on a plane for North Carolina by the time you read this.
Josh Cunningham got bullied around in the post all night
The senior leader has been lacking the “leader” aspect recently and finished with 10 points and 3 rebounds on 3-for-6 shooting from the field. I think it’s far to say many Flyers fans expected a “Player of the Year” type season out of JC, and what we’ve gotten instead is a polished post player who just gives UD quality minutes. It’s fair to ask more of your lone senior. Since putting up five 20+ point games in his first 12 appearances of the year, Josh has yet to eclipse 15 points in the 11 games since. I knew Josh would be drawing the attention of all the A10 defenses UD faced, but I also didn’t expect to be 12 games into the conference season and have Josh attempt 6 shots or less in five of those games. It’s puzzling. If UD is going to make a run in Brooklyn, it starts and ends right here with the big fella.
Ryan Mikesell played the game of his career
Chip lead all scorers at the half, and when all was said and done. Along with being an expert at the back-cut under the hoop, and constantly taking high-percentage shots, I have marveled at Chip’s ability to chase down blocks from behind the play. I can’t ever remember someone in a UD uniform doing it better than him. He finished with 22 points on 9-for-12 from the floor, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and two steals. He affected the game in every possible way.
Jordan Davis disappeared…again
Just being purely objective, I think this is who JD is when push comes to shove. Throughout the course of the year, JD was thought to be the “three-and-D” guy who chucked up a lot of long balls and kept things together defensively. Unfortunately, JDs defense hasn’t been able to outshine his inconsistencies offensively. After a fairly impressive start to A10 play, JD is averaging just 7 points over the last 7 games. I remain steadfast in my belief that JD will go back to thriving in AGs offense when he can come off the bench as a role player. I believe right now UD is just asking too much of him, but there’s no one else down the bench who can handle those minutes. Just a personal opinion from a guy writing a blog entry in pajamas. What the hell do I know?
The program is in great hands for two more years with Jalen Crutcher
In big games like this, Jalen never shies away from the spotlight, and that’s the nuts you want on your point guard. This program has been very fortunate over the past 5-6 years to get such great PG play. Crutcher’s best quality is his inability to get rattled. He’s as cool of a cat as you’ll find on the floor in pressure situations, and all the credit is due to him for fighting through an injury to get back on the floor when UD literally had no one else to go to for handling the ball. How often do you find yourself thinking John Crosby could get solid backup minutes on this team? I know I do.
Dwayne Cohill is slowly turning into one scary motherfucker on defense
When players go down with injury, typically it gives another guy on the roster his opportunity to shine, and Dwayne has taken it. My biggest takeaway from Saturday is the continued growth we have seen from Dwayne since November. Since the GMU loss Dwayne has been giving UD 15-20 good minutes every night, taking high-percentage looks, getting in someone’s grill on defense, and keeping the offense flowing. A lot has been said this season about the future of the program and what lies ahead next year and you have to be encouraged knowing Dwayne is going to be a big part of that. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Dwayne’s first 10-point game will come this week against Davidson or SLU. He looks ready to handle a workload for UD, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
So what now? With at-large hopes a distant memory, UD effectively played their way out of the conference race before even getting a crack at Davidson. Save your optimistic bullshit for another season, you don’t make up a 3-game deficit in six games, and that’s exactly what they have now behind VCU. With 19 days remaining until the end of the conference slate, UDs goal in the final six will be making sure they give themselves the best chance to make it to Sunday in Brooklyn, which obviously means that remaining in the top 4 (to receive the bye to Friday) is the goal. The story of this season has been one of missed opportunities, and unfortunately, you witnessed another last Saturday night.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t not mention The Arena again before closing. It was great to see the team rally behind the building again, because I think we can all agree its been particularly sleepy for going on two seasons now. Many point to geography, school similarities or historical precedence to define rivalries in college basketball, but you would be hard-pressed to find a single matchup in college hoops that has picked up intensity faster than UD-VCU over the past 6 years. VCU will now own a fairly comfortable 8-4 advantage in the series since their return to the A10 (including winners of the last four) but 9 out of the last 10 contests have been within seven points. It feels like every time these teams take the floor, something is at stake.
Special shout out to the VCU fan I got to chatting with at Flanagan’s after the game who agreed that this has become the A10’s best rivalry, and like we said in the recon, the conference would prefer if it stayed that way for the foreseeable future. What we got was another electric chapter in the series, even if it didn’t go the way of Gem City.
We are back to wearing red (rally towels on Saturday!) but never stopped being LOWD. See you tomorrow, Blackburn will have the Davidson recon before the obnoxiously early tip-off.