It’s hard to exaggerate how important Dayton’s win was on Sunday against the Gaels from Saint Mary’s in Phoenix. We harped on it all week, this season is soon going to become an exercise in avoiding bad losses, so when the opportunity calls to do something of significance, you best not let it slip through the cracks. Rest assured, UD did not. With the triumph over the Gaels now safely in the win column, our Flyers will be playing with house money in two weeks in Chicago against Colorado. A loss in that contest won’t sting much, and a win will ensure that Dayton stays ranked for weeks to come with a nice big cushion on their ass for the inevitable letdown that comes with a thirty-one game season. Without getting ahead of myself in paragraph #1 of the recap column, let’s reiterate one more time that a win in an empty NBA arena 2000 miles from home means a lot in the big picture and puts another notch in the belt of a tournament resume that’s getting stronger by the week.
A couple things stood out in the first half of the contest, the most obvious being the three-point shooting from UD, led by Jalen Crutcher. The junior point guard went 5-for-6 from beyond the arc, going into the break with 19 of UD’s 46 points in what was arguably the best half of his career for the Flyers. On the offensive side, Dayton’s quick ball movement and constant off-ball screening caused all kinds of switching problems for SMC that started and ended with their bigs being unable to pop out and guard the perimeter. We heard the rims were soft in Maui, so I’m not sure what excuse people would like to use for UD’s hot shooting in the home of the Phoenix Suns. Eventually, we may all just have to admit that this team can flat out shoot the ball. They will inevitably regress to the mean at some point this season, but for the time being, Dayton’s ability to manufacture open looks from quick passes is equally impressive as their ability to knock them down.
On the defensive side of the ball, it felt like UD beat SMC at their own game. We laid out in the recon, in excruciating detail, the fact that SMC is happy to lay back and dictate a slow pace, using twenty seconds of the shot clock before diving into an attack. The Flyers used this to their advantage, showing great patience by allowing SMC to burn through the early seconds of the shot clock, and then aggressively challenging anything that went to the rim. SMC’s point guard, Jordan Ford, was constantly looking to run off ball screens to get a mismatch, but the mismatches simply didn’t exist. What I personally appreciate the most about this team is their collective ability to guard every position. Rarely does UD have a gaping hole in their defense, and their interior D was particularly impressive on Sunday. I still can’t tell you what Dirt Road Johnson (DRJ for short) or Chimichanga are going to give this team in the long-term, but right now it seems AG is content to let them get a few minutes here and there to give the starters a breather. More on that in a minute.
The collective first half performance was shades of Maui on both ends. UD used their quick ball movement to switch the floor, creating open looks and forcing the Gaels to play a lot of chasing defense. On the defensive side, they did a great job recovering when SMC was looking to get the ball in the post on the aforementioned mismatches. After trading a few buckets and leading 5-4, UD went on an 11-0 run and never looked back, extending the lead to as much as 24 points with two minutes remaining. It was undoubtedly Dayton’s best half of the young season given the level of competition, and their utter domination in all aspects of the game. I caught up with Alex Jensen (the SMC play-by-play guy who joined us on the podcast last week) in the concourse at the half, and he gave me a quick shrug of the shoulders when I asked about the first period.
“What are you going to do when the team you’re playing is 10-for-15 from behind the arc?”
I had no answer to that inquiry.
If the first half was reminiscent of they Flyers’ performance in Hawaii, the second half conjured up thoughts of the first half against Houston Baptist. Lazy, disinterested defense started the period, and while the first five minutes were an even back-and-forth, UD failed to put away the struggling Gaels, registering a -11 over the next 3:30 of game play, taking us to the eleven-minute mark. If this team expects to roll through the Atlantic 10 conference in early 2020, they need to figure out how to avoid these lapses. If you go -11 in the first half of a conference game, for example, you’re likely to get snuck up on and beaten. So if I have one nitpick-y (I just made that word up) take away from the game, it’s to keep an eye on how often UD takes their foot off the gas. Just because you’re the better team on a given night doesn’t mean the opposition is going to roll over and die for you, and a Randy Bennett-coached team certainly falls into that category. They did a great job closing down the first two contests in Maui, but you would be remiss to not recall their inability to put Kansas away up seven with seven minutes to play. On Sunday, the 24 point cushion was more than enough to avoid a similar letdown.
There are many points I could belabor in this post game column, but frankly I’m tired and got home from Phoenix well after midnight. I was impressed with SMC’s adjustments in the second half, but they also had no choice than to get UD off the three point line. The first half saw the Flyers take 15 threes and just 8 two-point shots, while the second half was flipped: 9 three balls and 20 two-pointers. If nothing else in this article gives you an indication on the variety of ways Dayton can hurt the opposition, that statistic should tell you everything. Even as Bennett wisely forced UD to change their attack offensively, it didn’t matter much, the guys in red have more than enough large bodies to beat you in the post (and on the boards) as well, so credit UD for adjusting their scheme to get the job done when SMC refused to go away. It’s been a while since a Dayton team had this many good shooters, you can take that to the bank. Let’s get to the takes.
Ryan Mikesell continues to be as steady as a war veteran’s right hand
The senior leader cashed in another efficient performance, giving the Flyers a steal and an assist to go along with 8 points and 5 rebounds in 31 minutes of honest work. Mikesell reminds me of that guy in your fantasy lineup that you haven’t worried about all year, allowing you the freedom to go tinker with the other dudes on your team. You know what he gives you, night in and night out. It’s wild to think about how far he’s come in the last eighteen months, considering that no one was sure he would ever be a productive cog in the lineup after coming back from a serious injury. Don’t let me ever catch you taking Chip for granted. His high basketball IQ is on display every single night, and when the team really needs a bucket, or finds themselves in a slump, more often than not it’s Mikesell who steps up to get things rolling again.
Ibi Watson has solidified himself into the sixth man role
The transfer came off the bench again for 11 points in 17 minutes, including 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. Ibi’s greatest strength lies in his ability to stretch the floor offensively when he’s in the game, because he must be respected at the three-point line. This was the first game of his season where he attempted less than three long balls, a testament to his (and the whole team’s) ability to take the right shot, not the shot they prefer.
The lineup is starting to get whittled down
I’m not touching on anything new by saying Chase and Jordy still look a step slow, but oftentimes make up for it on effort alone. Games like North Texas, Grambling State and North Florida are going to go a long way in making these guys feel comfortable, because you’re still seeing them get flushed out of the rotation against worthy adversaries. Don’t write them off as valuable contributors yet, but Grant has wisely limited their presence against better teams. Meanwhile, Jhery Matos didn’t even see the floor and Dwayne Cohill saw just seven total minutes of playing time, which makes you wonder if their lack of offense is finally starting to catch up to their inherent value on the defensive side of the ball. To earn minutes on this team, you’re gonna have to do both, boys.
The defense did a great job of shutting down Jordan Ford
As I said earlier, Ford’s game is similarly predicted to what Kansas’ Devon Dotson does with Udoka Azubuike: high ball screens to create mismatches and lanes to drive to the hoop. Ford is a legit college star who scored more than 25 points on nine different occasions last year, and the Flyers used their length to constantly disrupt him on the perimeter and get the ball out of his hands. I would venture to say SMC isn’t going to win a lot of games when his scoring total in less than twelve. UD provided a blueprint for how other teams can attack him defensively, and that’s a credit to AG and the overall defensive effort we’ve come to appreciate so far this seaason.
Rodney Chatman is still a dude
Still constantly impressed with this guy on a nightly basis. He had a shit game offensively, going a mere 2-for-11 from the floor, but didn’t let those struggles bleed into the defensive side of the ball. The Masked Man takes no plays off, and embodies what this team has been about from the outset. Even on nights when he can’t find the bottom of the net, he’s still an overwhelmingly positive addition to this Flyers team. I don’t see that changing.
Trey Landers is “stirring the drink”
The senior is doing a little bit of everything these days. Scoring, shooting, rebounding, keeping the energy up. He’s elevated his game considerably from last season and solidified himself as a legit starter. I was skeptical Trey could turn things around from a mediocre offensive season last year, but he’s answered the call and turned in an impressive fifteen points on the back of 3-for-3 shooting from downtown. He’s shooting a ridiculous 7-for-15 from beyond the arc this year, which is two buckets shy of his three-point total for the entirety of last season.
So that’s it, knuckleheads. At the time of this writing, the rankings were a mere hours away from being released, and your Dayton Flyers will be moving on up again. If I’m a gambling man, I believe SMC will be a tournament team this year, and to say UD dismantled them would be a fair characterization. The Gem City Cagers get a much deserved week off, before welcoming in two buy games, this Saturday (Drake) and next Tuesday (North Texas). As you well know, these are two must-wins (landmines) to set the table for the Flyers’ vital showdown with the Colorado Buffaloes (who were handled comfortably by Kansas, 72-58, this weekend) on the 21st in Chicago. UD does not have the luxury of affording a single slip-up in the non-con schedule, so the onus will fall on you, loyal reader of the BBR, to once again wear red and be LOWD on Saturday back home. See you there.
The LOWD ambassador of Chicago, Sully has spent his life tirelessly watching UD hoops. Welcomer of all takes, hot and cold.