Newsletter: Unpredictable season rolls on for Dayton

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Unpredictable season rolls on for Dayton

The gamblers like to ask me for injury updates on the Dayton Flyers. Anthony Grant likes to stay tight-lipped about that kind of news. The players have followed their coach’s lead. Throughout Grant’s tenure, I rarely have any updates until I arrive at games and see who’s in uniform and who’s not. The last time Dayton had any sort of official announcement about an injury outside of an interview with Grant was when Dwayne Cohill tore his ACL before the 2020-21 season.

» GALLERY: Top 25 photos of season

That doesn’t stop fans from asking about injuries — and not just fans of the Flyers but sports fans who don’t care about the Flyers at all except as it relates to betting.

“What’s (the) injury report tonight?” wrote a fan named John Smith (not his real name ... probably).

“I’ve had pain on the front of my left knee for about nine months but nothing I can’t play through,” I wrote. “As for the Flyers, all gamblers can check back around 5:30.”

Another fan named Ryan (maybe his real name but who knows) wrote me a direct message on Twitter:

“Hey David! Thanks for all of your coverage on Dayton hoops. I was reading your Tweets regarding Malachi’s ankle and am glad he seems to think he will be ok. In your opinion, do you think he plays at VCU?”

I checked out Ryan’s Twitter timeline. He’s definitely a big-time sports bettor. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s legal now in Ohio. It should have always been legal, in my opinion, even if the downsides of that are becoming apparent, as Grant made clear in a postgame rant in January.

I don’t judge gamblers — at least the ones not targeting players with hateful messages online — but I don’t see how anyone makes any money trying to predict these games. I know a lot about the Flyers and have no idea if they are going to win most games. This past week was a good example. I figured they would lose at Saint Bonaventure because they always win at the Reilly Center and seemed due for a loss there, but I’ve thought that before. This time, I was right. The Bonnies won somewhat convincingly, 68-59. I had seen Dayton win at Virginia Commonwealth, but I didn’t think it would happen Tuesday with the way the team played Saturday. I was wrong. Aside from some tense moments in the last two minutes, Dayton had control of that game and won 62-58.

As for Malachi Smith, he didn’t play, and I don’t know if he’ll play tonight when Dayton plays Saint Louis at UD Arena. He didn’t wear a boot Tuesday. That’s a sign his ankle injury isn’t as severe this time. R.J. Blakney is also hurt now. Grant didn’t reveal much about that injury after the game, except to say it was a new injury and not related to whatever kept him out of two of the previous four games. Those absences did not cost the Flyers on Tuesday, but in the long run, the Flyers need all the healthy bodies they can find — you can bet on that, at least.

Losing the ‘fire and grit” and finding it again

My trip to the greater Olean area on Saturday was uneventful — cold but dry. St. Bonaventure provided the most hostile environment Dayton has seen this season. Not even VCU, with almost 4,000 more fans, could match it three days later. The St. Bonaventure students, all wearing white T-shirts they received for attending, filled a section behind the basket Dayton used in the second half and also crowded a section of stands across from Dayton’s bench. The ones on the side of the court were right on top of the action, feet away from players in-bounding the ball.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure gave the fans plenty of reasons to cheer as they beat the Flyers for the first time since 2016. That 79-72 loss seven years ago — when the quartet of Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard Kyle Davis and Charles Cooke were juniors — came in the midst of a late-season slump for Dayton. UD was 21-3 when it lost to Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island in a four-game stretch. Two of those losses came at UD Arena. Dayton rebounded to win at Richmond and beat VCU in Dayton in the regular-season finale to clinch a share of the A-10 championship.

Jaylen Adams hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 36 seconds left to help lift the Bonnies to the win in 2016 at UD Arena.

“Now everyone’s going to say, ‘Let’s see what they’re made of,’” then Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “We’re going to find out what we’re made of.”

It was a similar story this week as Dayton faced its highest-ranked A-10 opponent on the road three days after losing to the Bonnies. The Flyers needed a victory to avoid falling three games behind VCU. Grant had strong words about his team’s play after the loss to St. Bonaventure.

“If I’m being honest, I saw a team that had more fight and grit than we did,” Grant said.

Grant referenced his team’s “competitive character” and said “it’s been lacking.”

Then Grant saw a different attitude at VCU as the Flyers overcame an early 11-point deficit and avoided blowing a late nine-point lead.

“We had to survive really the last 52 seconds in the game,” Grant said. “I’m proud of the guys for making enough stops and making enough free throws.”

Toppin still with Knicks as trade deadline passes

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Dayton fans rooting for Obi Toppin to be traded on Thursday will continue to wait. The New York Knicks held on to Toppin, who has struggled to find playing time throughout his three seasons, as the NBA trade deadline passed at 3 p.m.

On Twitter, Marc Berman, formerly of the New York Post, wrote, “Knicks executive William Wesley has a love affair with Obi Toppin and they set asking price way too high. (Tom) Thibodeau still has reservations on Obi’s basketball IQ.”

Toppin ranks 11th on the Knicks in minutes played per game, and he tied for 11th last season. He missed 15 games in December and January with a non-displaced fracture in his right fibula head. He has appeared in 16 games since his return and has not played more than 17 minutes in that stretch.

It’s not all bad news for Toppin. The Knicks are competing for a playoff spot this season. He’s playing in his hometown close to his family. He’s making $5.3 million this season and will make $6.8 million next season. However, at this point, it’s hard to picture him ever getting enough playing time with the Knicks for him to show what he can truly do in the NBA. Dayton fans want a reason to tune into a NBA game to see Toppin play, and he doesn’t play enough to justify spending much time on the Knicks.

A big week for Dayton continues

At Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day in October, I jokingly asked Saint Louis coach Travis Ford if he planned on asking former Billikens guard Jordair Jett to travel around and watch the Flyers. Jett was involved in an incident with Dayton players last season at Chaifetz Arena. There were words exchanged. Grant was so upset his angry face became a meme on Twitter. Ford laughed but wisely didn’t answer as we moved on to real questions.

The Jett storyline won’t really be relevant until Dayton plays at Saint Louis on March 3. The Flyers and Billikens play tonight at UD Arena with the goal of keeping pace with VCU atop the standings. Dayton (16-9, 8-4) could move within a half game of first, while Saint Louis (16-8, 8-3) could move into a tie for first with VCU (18-7, 9-3).

Saint Louis has lost eight games in a row at UD Arena. Ford has never won there as the Saint Louis coach. The last time the Billikens beat Dayton in Dayton was Jan. 11, 2014. That was the first of five losses in a six-game stretch for the Dayton team that would make the Elite Eight. Dayton has lost three games to Saint Louis in St. Louis since 2014 and one game to Saint Louis in the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn.

The Billikens, like the Flyers, have not lived up to expectations this year. They sat atop the A-10 until losing at Fordham and at home to VCU. Then they narrowly avoided a loss at home to Rhode Island on Tuesday.

There’s not one happy fan base in the A-10 right now, outside of maybe Fordham, which judging by attendance alone (708 fans per game) doesn’t have much of a fan base to speak of. Saint Louis fans are right there with Dayton fans and, to a lesser extent, VCU fans, in their level of frustration with this roller coaster of a season. On the other hand, it should make for an interesting final month of the regular season and an exciting A-10 tournament.

“In this game, in this league, anybody can beat anybody,” Dayton forward Toumani Camara said. “You’ve just got bring it every time. Anything can happen. I think that’s the beauty of this game.”

Fast Break

Each week, I’ll spotlight news from around the A-10 or other news that might interest Flyer fans.

🏀 I appeared on a St. Bonaventure podcast last week: SBUnfurled and Friends. A number of teams in the conference have podcasts dedicated to them. Dayton has Talking Out Lowd. Saint Louis has Midtown Madness. Then there’s 3 Bid League, which covers the whole conference.

🏀 VCU coach Mike Rhoades said the Rams played “flustered” in their loss to Dayton, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch story by Tim Pearrell.

🏀 St. Bonaventure’s momentum after victories against Richmond, VCU and Dayton was short lived as it lost 76-70 at home to La Salle on Wednesday.

What do you want to know about the Flyers?

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