Like a meteor streaking across the sky, it didn’t take long for the Dayton Flyers to get the basketball world’s attention. The time has come and gone not to think that Anthony Grant’s squad is a legitimate contender to play deep into the NCAA Tournament.
The Flyers (18-2, 7-0 Atlantic 10) are just two overtime losses away from matching San Diego State as the nation’s only unbeaten team.
Now, the nation’s No. 7 team heads to Pittsburgh to face Duquesne on Wednesday, seeking to go 5-0 in true road games and win its 10th consecutive overall.
The Dukes also were one of the surprise teams early on as head coach Keith Dambrot guided Duquesne to a 10-0 mark, the team’s best start since 1953-54. But the Dukes (15-4, 5-2) have come back to earth in their past nine games and have lost two straight.
Despite the skid, Dambrot relishes the challenge that lies ahead and believes his players will bounce back.
“This group is too tough-minded for us to go backward,” he recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We have too many guys who are winners and who are used to winning to worry about it all falling apart.”
While their offense scores at a clip of 70.7 points per game, the Dukes make their mark on defense, allowing just 62.7 points.
Dayton has no trouble scoring and ranks third in the nation at 83.2 points per game. All-America candidate Obi Toppin isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward is a certain NBA first-round pick if he decides to forgo his final two seasons.
Toppin averages 19.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Three other Flyers — Jalen Crutcher, Ibi Watson and Trey Landers — average double figures and a fourth (Ryan Mikesell) is tallying 9.9 points per game.
The Flyers lead the nation in field-goal percentage at 52.6 percent and distribute the ball well, averaging 18.9 assists each game, also the best in the nation.
The Dayton bench, which was a question mark earlier in the season, no longer keeps Grant awake at night.
Jordy Tshimanga, Dwayne Cohill and Jhery Matos have helped settle Grant’s rotation, and they have assimilated to their roles.
“I thought those guys came in and did a great job,” Grant told the Dayton Daily News after Saturday’s win at Richmond. “The things that those guys did in terms of scouting report, in terms of being able to execute offensively, the effort and energy they gave, I thought all three of those guys were really huge.”
In Saturday’s loss to Massachusetts, Duquesne was led by Sincere Carry’s 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. The Dukes were outscored 27-13 at the free-throw line and got clobbered on the boards, 52-34.
That kind of play is a recipe for disaster against a team as talented as the Flyers, but the Dukes do sport an 8-0 “home” record, even though they’ve been playing at different venues as their home court is renovated. Wednesday’s game will take place at PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For one, Toppin won’t be intimidated, especially after hearing some negative chants directed toward him from Richmond fans on Saturday.
“Every time we’re in a hostile environment, that’s like an energy booster for us,” Toppin said. “When we hear them chanting, it brings us up and makes us play a lot harder because we know we’ve got to win to make them be quiet.”
–Field Level Media