Newsletter: ‘Hard times’ for Dayton at Battle 4 Atlantis

‘Hard times’ for Dayton at Battle 4 Atlantis

At Imperial Arena on Thursday, I was talking to a group of Dayton fans before the game against N.C. State.

At that moment, DaRon Holmes II and then Malachi Smith walked across the area where fans gather before entering the arena. Teams gather in ballrooms that serve as locker rooms before games. The whole arena, in fact, is a giant conference room. Holmes and Smith were headed to the bathroom, and the fans I was talking to and many others started shouting and cheering for them. The players waved their hands and nodded but did not stop. They were “locked in” as they say.

This is a type of moment you only see at these November tournaments. Fans see the players at the resort. One sent me a photo of himself with Mike Sharavjamts, who had just gone down a waterslide. Other than the prices at the Atlantis Paradise Island resort, where everything costs as much as in Las Vegas, it’s a fan-friendly atmosphere.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good experience on the court for the fans and teams. One team will go home winless from the Battle 4 Atlantis, and it’s going to be the Dayton Flyers or Brigham Young, who meet in the seventh-place game at 3:30 p.m. today.

Losses to Wisconsin and N.C. State on back-to-back days have put Dayton in a tough situation. A win today would be a small consolation prize. It would not get it anywhere close to the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble. It has much to work to do to get there, and that’s what these November tournaments are supposed to do for the Flyers.

On social media, the sky has fallen for many fans, causing Holmes’ dad DaRon to write this on Thursday after a 76-64 loss to the Wolfpack.

“I tell you what ... I am here for my @DaytonMBB,” he wrote. “Hard times, cloudy days whatever. If you are kicking while we’re down, PLEASE do not extend a hand when we’re up! Go ahead and jump ship! #takingnames.”


Dayton needs a win

This image of Dayton coach Anthony Grant sitting on the bench Thursday with his head in his hands sums up the day for Dayton. It wasn’t just that the Flyers lost to N.C. State. It was that they imploded in the second half with turnovers and technical fouls and little defense during the Wolfpack’s game-deciding 17-0 run.

Dayton now finds itself in a rare position. It has not finished 0-3 in a November tournament since the Great Alaska Shootout in 1992. A Dayton team that would finish 4-26 lost to Illinois, UAB and Division II Alaska-Anchorage, the host school.

“You have to do a certain amount of healing after you play so poorly,” coach Jim O’Brien said after his team finished last in that tournament thanks in part to the same cold shooting that has hurt Dayton in the Battle 4 Atlantis. “Our guys will respond. I see our guys every day. I see how they shoot. You go into a foreign place and get cold, and it becomes contagious. We can’t dwell on the negative. We have to build from where we are, and right now we’re pretty low.”

This will also be Dayton’s first appearance in the seventh-place game since 1992. It has not finished worse than fifth in all the years since because it has always won its first or second game or both.


BYU up next for Flyers

Dayton will renew an old series for the third straight day. It had not played Wisconsin since 1961. It had not played N.C. State since December 1959. And it also has not played BYU since January 1959.

BYU lost 75-70 to Butler in the late game Thursday. It made 3 of 20 3-pointers after making 12 of 32 3s in an 82-76 loss to Southern California in the first round.

“Congratulations to Butler,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “They made some really big plays down the stretch and it was a great win for them. I was proud of our guys. I thought we won in a lot of the areas that we wanted but just couldn’t win the game. I thought the guys made significant improvements from yesterday in some of the ways we approach the game. We still came up empty tonight and so that’s really, really discouraging, but we’ll continue to get better. That’s the motto of the team and these games gives us an opportunity to do it.”


Ups and downs

This has been a challenging trip for me with a 4-year-old. There are more ups and downs with this age than a typical Dayton game. We’ve had some good times at the beach and plenty of miserable moments as well. The Pirate Museum was fun. Spending $30 on a bottle of skin repellent because the no-see-ums are brutal and then running to the pharmacy to get medication for Chase later in the day was not.

I always have fun talking to Dayton fans on these trips, however. Ed Fowler, who was a cheerleader in the first season at UD Arena, was the first fan I ran into on Cabbage Beach when we checked into our new place down the street from Atlantis on Wednesday. We spent the three nights at an AirBnB across the island away from the tourists on a mostly deserted beach with a view of Tiger Woods’ yacht out in the ocean. Common brown dogs, much like our mutts at home, roamed the streets of the Adelaide Beach neighborhood and came to our door to get Nutter Butters from my wife Barbara.

We did take a quick tour of Atlantis on Thursday. It’s big and loud — and maybe not the best place for Chase. I think we picked a good location down the street. Chase and Barbara did go to the Wisconsin game when the Flyers suffered a heartbreaking loss after a 10-point comeback. They were not watching at the end. Chase found a friend his age and had a blast playing near the concession stands.

For the record, if Dayton ever returns to this tournament, you can buy tickets right before the game. You don’t have to stay at Atlantis. You can’t buy tickets in advance unless you’re staying at the resort, but there are always plenty of tickets to buy on game day.

The Wisconsin game could have changed the whole direction of the season for Dayton, but Kobe Elvis had his shot blocked — just like Malachi Smith a year ago against Kansas — but this time, the ball bounced out of bounds instead of to Mustapha Amzil.

Dayton still had one second to work with after the shot block. A Dayton fan wrote me to wonder why they didn’t try to throw the ball to Holmes under the basket. That worked with Josh Cunningham in Grant’s first game in 2017. It worked when they threw a lob to R.J. Blakney at Richmond last season. This time, they gave the ball to Elvis in the corner, and he didn’t get a shot off in time, though the shot was nowhere near the rim either. In all the end-of-game situations over the last two seasons, I can’t remember the big men, Holmes or Camara, ever getting a look or a shot. It’s probably worth a try at some point because seemingly everyone else has had their chances.


Fast Break

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

🏀 Here’s an attention-grabbing headline from BackingthePack.com: “NC State will have to overcome the bog of eternal stench that is Dayton.”

The article criticized the slow pace of the Dayton offense, which has struggled to get shots off in time this week and has been hit with a number of shot-clock violations.

“Grant’s teams never run; they are routinely in the bottom 10% in pace, and this season is not an exception,” wrote Steven Muma.

🏀 Dayton fans suffering this week can at least take solace in the fact that they’re not Louisville fans. The Cardinals are 0-6 under first-year coach Kenny Payne after going 0-3 at the Maui Invitational. It’s their worst start since the 1940-41 season.

🏀 Kansas will play Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game today. The Jayhawks have had a lot go right for them since losing to Dayton a year ago. They won the national championship in March. They beat Wisconsin on a crazy shot at the buzzer in overtime Thursday. They just find ways to win.


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