In the 2001 movie The Fast and The Furious Vin Diesel had a very famous line. “It don’t matter if you win by inch or by a mile, winning is winning.” That sentence encapsulates tonight’s Dayton Flyer experience. Dayton led by a mile in the second half, and won by an inch. If there was a confident Dayton fan out there going into this contest against Davidson you would be hard pressed to find them. Davidson was undefeated at home, won 24 of their last 25 there, and were tied for the A10 lead going into the game — and coming off a packed house win on Friday since Stephen Curry was in attendance vs St. Joes. (Side note: I counted 15 separate mentions of Steph, Curry, or Steph Curry on tonight’s broadcast) Meanwhile, Dayton was coming off a loss to VCU on Saturday where they fought all the way back just to come up short. This was also the formula for how this game was going to go, Dayton was just going to play the opposite role.
Dayton started the game missing their first three 3-point attempts and it looked like it was going to be that kind of shooting night. However the Flyers made their next three as Mikesell, Davis, and Obi all hit separate treys to give Dayton a 9-4 lead at the under 16 timeout. Both teams came out of the blocks a little slow, Davidson especially. Stalemate play led to Dayton leading 21-15 at the under 8 timeout and it was at this point that Dayton began to build their lead. Josh Cunningham who, quite frankly, had been under performing, finally broke out and had 10 points at the half.
The front court was where Dayton’s advantage clearly lied as Mikesell, Toppin, and Cunningham combined for 23 points in the first half and Dayton played some of their most inspired defense of the season in the final 8 minutes of the first half, holding Davidson in check as they went into the locker room leading by 12, to the tune of 37-25. Interesting tidbit from the broadcast: Dayton was 12-2 when leading at the half this season coming into this game, that record is now extended to 13-2. Take that however you choose.
The second half was THE Dayton Flyer basketball experience in its purest form. Jon Axel Gudmundsson got off to a hot start for Davidson but Josh Cunningham was countering his every bucket. Dayton and Davidson began trading blows back and forth in the early portion of the second half. Cunningham, however, would pick up his third foul before the under 16 timeout and forced Anthony Grant to take him out of the game. Dayton could have easily panicked here and allowed Davidson to creep back into the ball game, but they did the opposite, and a lot of it had to do with Obi Toppin. Obi went into “takeover” mode and began scoring buckets in a variety of ways. Jordan Davis and Ryan Mikesell chipped in here and there, but Obi was the driving force behind Dayton holding off an early Davidson run and stretching the Dayton lead to as much as 19 on a lob pass from Mikesell to Toppin with ten minutes to play.
Cunningham scored his 20th point with 7:27 to go in the game and the under 8 timeout was triggered with Dayton leading 66-50. Remember when I said that Saturday’s game against VCU was the formula for this game as well? Well the comeback for Davidson was on from this point. Dayton would go scoreless for the next four minutes as Davidson slowly, but surely, chipped the Dayton lead down. A steal and score by Kellan Grady on a lazy pass by Jalen Crutcher tied the game at 71-71. Dayton had the ball late once again, a situation that has not been kind to the Flyers this season. They went to the correct man, as they ran a clear out for Obi Toppin. Obi took it to the rim and missed his initial attempt but a second effort tap-in gave Dayton a 73-71 lead. Davidson elected not to call a TO with 30 seconds to go as they missed a couple three’s, but the gassed Flyers couldn’t converge on the rebound and Davidson eventually found a wide open man underneath the basket to re-tie the game at 73-73.
Crutcher quickly took the ball down court and found a rolling Josh Cunningham under the rim. JC was fouled with purpose by Grady with just 2.2 seconds on the clock. Josh (a 52.2% FT shooter on the season) was 8-8 at this juncture of the game. In a performance that proved he was better than his recent sluggish performances, it was fitting that Cunningham was the one with the game in his hands. Josh missed the first, making all of us at home sweat it out for the second, but it tickled the twine to give UD the 1-point advantage they needed with a few ticks to go. Kellan Grady got a way better look at the basket than he probably should have (UD did not pressure the inbounder, ho hum) but it clanged off the front iron and your Dayton Flyers got a surprising win in Davidson, NC, where the Wildcats had yet to lose this season. (Sully wants me to point out that, unfortunately, not only did UD blow their chance to even the odds with VCU on Saturday, they now practically gift-wrapped the regular season title for the Richmond Rams as well. Currently VCU owns the tiebreakers over the next three teams behind them, and the odds they win the A10, are, um, likely. Although that does in fact stink, I am not too worried about on a night like tonight because a win like this one is one that deserves to be savored.)
Josh Cunningham makes the biggest free throw of his career and Dayton beats Davidson 74-73. pic.twitter.com/LLtCowlXvo
— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) February 20, 2019
It takes a special kind of human being to watch these Flyers night in and night out. They are the most rollercoaster Dayton team we have seen in quite some time. We can obviously sit here and point out a lot of flaws tonight. Or, we can look at the resolve from a team who came off a tough loss getting back up for a road game at one the toughest place to play in the conference. To build a big lead, to lose that margin and stay together to hold on for a win — these are the kinds of games that can make or break a season. Yes, Dayton is wildly inconsistent, but there is something about this squad that makes me want to keep watching. I couldn’t say that about last years team. Let’s take a bite out of the meat on this bone…
Josh Cunningham broke out of his slump, and proved the difference
Josh Cunningham has been a topic of discussion in Dayton circles throughout the conference season. A pre-season All A-10 selection was not living up to his billing. UD needed Josh to get back to his old ways and he did just that tonight. He was perfect from the floor, 6-for-6 and was 9-of-10(!!) from the free-throw line — including the difference maker with two seconds left. If Dayton wants to take this season anywhere, Josh has got to bring the energy, and the will he brought tonight. If he can do that our team transforms into a contender in Brooklyn. We need Josh to go on a tear as A-10 play winds down, and if tonight is any indication, he is going to do just that.
Along with Cunningham, the front court was spectacular
We touched on Cunningham, but his front court mates Ryan Mikesell and Obi Toppin were just as effective. The two were a combined 10-for-18 from the field, 3-for-7 from three, totaling 28 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists. The floor game that these two guys played was impressive and they also dominated the game (for the most part) defensively as Obi, Mikesell and Cunningham were all comporting themselves down low. Foul trouble was the factor in their decreased aggression late in the game. These three guys need to show up every night if Dayton wants a chance to win, they did it tonight. Hopefully these three continue to excel, as Dayton could be a very dangerous entity in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Jordan Davis scoring in double figures = Dayton win
This was discussed on the lost tapes of the pre-VCU game podcast, but when Jordan Davis scores in double figures, Dayton is 12-2 this season. Alternatively? When JD scores 9 or less, UD is 5-7. He did it tonight, finishing with a vital 15 points. JD connected on four three-pointers, none bigger then when Davidson had cut the lead to two (as Dayton was stuck on 66) to extend the lead back up to five. Jordan Davis is about as hot and cold as they come. Good JD showed up on this night.
It is has been a unpredictable and unstable season for Dayton. That is no secret. In seasons like these, you need to appreciate the good when it comes because you never know when the bad is lurking just around the corner. We’ve established how competitive this team can be on good nights, the Flyers’ performance in the Bahamas reflected their potential. I understand that Dayton let a big lead slip away tonight, that’s unfortunate this late in the year, but they did just enough to come away with a confidence building victory. Say what you will about this edition of the Flyers, but they have certainly showed the ability to win games on the road.
Winning these types of contests, against these kind of opponents, is what Dayton needs to be doing NOW. They did that tonight, and like celebrated thespian Vin Diesel said, “Winning is winning.” Dayton is now 17-9 and 9-4 in the league with Arch-Baron II coming up on Saturday. We are going to have recon and a podcast coming your way later in the week. Ware Red and Be LOWD everyone, the finish line is, finally, in sight.