Cunningham scores 25 points as Dayton wins fourth straight
Any game that ends with walk-on guard Jack Westerfield driving the baseline and scoring on a layup, as his teammates erupt in excitement on the bench, goes into the good win column for the Dayton Flyers.
Dayton expected to beat Richmond. Its fans expected a double-digit victory. No one could have been sure they would see a dominant 40-minute performance because that’s what this team lacked in recent games. However, that’s what the crowd of 12,848, which included the 10 millionth fan to see a men’s basketball game at UD Arena, experienced Sunday.
Dayton opened Atlantic 10 Conference play with a 72-48 victory, and it wasn't that close. The Flyers (9-5) led by as many as 33 points before clearing the bench in the final minutes.
“We put two halves together today instead of coming out slow,” Dayton forward Josh Cunningham said. “We worked on that in practice all week. We had a week until we played again, so that’s one thing we’ve been drilling: come out in the second half and finish the game off. That’s what we did tonight.”
Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s fourth straight victory:
1. Unstoppable force: Cunningham led the Flyers with 25 points, reaching the 1,000-point mark in his career, on 11-of-14 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. He had 11 points in the first seven minutes. Early in the second half, he was beating Richmond by himself 21-20. Dayton had a 39-20 lead at that point.
“I thought Josh was dominant,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Offensively, the numbers speak for themselves, but (it was) his voice on the defensive end — he was the anchor for us back there in the zone for us — and at his position he can see the movement and what’s going on. I thought he did a good job with his awareness and his voice of keeping everybody engaged from a defensive standpoint.”
2. Defensive effort: Dayton held Richmond (6-7) to 29.5 percent shooting from the field, its worst mark of the season, and 28.9 percent shooting from 3-point range (11 of 38).
“I thought defensively we really set the tone,” Grant said. “Our guys did a good job of understanding the scouting report. We were able to limit some of the easies. Give them credit. They shot the ball a lot from the 3-point line. Eleven 3s is a lot in the game, but for the most part, we were able to control the tempo from a defensive standpoint.”
3. Stopping Golden: Richmond's top player, Grant Golden, who shared A-10 Player of the Week award with Cunningham this week, had a hard time stopping Cunningham or finding anything on the offensive end. He scored four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Golden, an A-10 preseason first-team selection, entered the game with a 19.5 scoring average and had scored in double figures in every game.
“With the zone, they couldn’t really get him the ball like they’re used to feeding him the ball,” Cunningham said. “He’s usually the main guy getting everyone where they need to be. He usually gets slips and stuff to the basket, but the team played great defense.”
4. Dayton's strength: The Flyers won big despite shooting 15 percent from 3-point range (3 of 20). Inside the arc, it made 28 of 38 shots (73.7 percent), adding to its resume as one of the nation's most efficient teams on 2-point shots. It's shooting 62 percent from 2-point range, trailing only Gonzaga (62.6).
Dayton outscored Richmond 54-12 in the paint and 13-4 in fast-break points. Obi Toppin complemented Cunningham with 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers each scored nine. Jalen Crutcher had eight points.
“I thought our guys were able to get out in transition for easies,” Grant said. “I thought our guys were able to take advantage of some mismatches inside and impose our will a little bit on the post. It was good to see that. It was good to be able to get the A-10 season off with a win.”
5. Big picture: Dayton moved from No. 78 to No. 69 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings with this victory. It began the day ranked 68th in the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool).
This was Dayton’s most lopsided A-10 victory since it beat Virginia Commonwealth 106-79 last January.
“We played a really good first and second half,” Toppin said. “Coach congratulated us when we got upstairs. He was like, ‘This was a really good game for us. We came out strong. We came out in the second half strong.’ He just felt good about what we did.”
Dayton at George Washington, 7 p.m., ESPN+, AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO