Players and coaches have to say, “There are no moral victories.” If they admitted otherwise, they would be expressing satisfaction about defeats. That’s especially true for the Dayton Flyers, a proud program that would like to be a regular in the top 25 — in the same way that it always ranks among the nation’s attendance leaders — and expects to beat teams from the power conferences.
However, there’s nothing wrong with Dayton heading home from the Bahamas on Saturday with heads held high. Most of their fans will do just that. A team coming off a 14-17 season played three-top 50 teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis, beating Butler and giving Virginia and Oklahoma two tough games.
A 65-54 loss Friday in the third-place game to the Sooners (5-1) showed once again this is a gritty Dayton team with heart. The Flyers (4-2) overcame an early 14-point deficit to lead by seven in the second half before running out of steam in the final minutes.
“I think we definitely got better as a team,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a team. We would have liked to have won the tournament, would have liked to have had the chance to go 2-1, but that wasn’t our fate. We’ve got a group that enjoys playing with each other. They enjoy being around each other. They’re disappointed because they wanted to win, but the lessons we learned from this will continue to carry them forward.”
Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s finale game at Imperial Gym:
1. Slow start: Dayton missed its first six shots from the field and trailed 9-0. Trey Landers, who scored 12 points, ended the drought with a 3-pointer at the 15:05 mark.
However, in the next six minutes, the Sooners pushed their lead to 26-12.
“I thought we just needed to weather the storm,” Grant said. “Offensively, we struggled getting shots to fall to start the game. They were at a pretty good clip in terms of getting shots to fall.”
2. Big comeback: Dayton trailed 31-19 with six minutes to play in the first half. It cut that deficit in half by halftime with a 9-3 run. Jalen Crutcher, who led the Flyers with 14 points and six assists, had five points during that stretch.
Jhery Matos hit two free throws with six seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 34-28. Dayton then opened the second half on a 13-0 run, taking a 41-34 lead. A 3-pointer by Crutcher capped the run.
» BUTLER GAME: Dayton proves the doubters wrong
That was the high point for Dayton and one reason it will take home positives despite a second straight 1-2 finish in the annual November tournament.
“Defensively, we learned we’re capable of doing great things,” Matos said. “Offensively, we’ve got a lot of weapons. I think in this tournament we kind of figured out what we need to do to win games.”
3. Killer drought: Dayton missed 13 of its next 14 shots after taking the seven-point lead. Only a layup by Crutcher stopped the Flyers from going 10 minutes without a point. During that time, Dayton also committed three turnovers. Oklahoma took a 47-43 lead.
Fatigue played a part in Dayton’s demise. Crutcher played all 40 minutes in this game after playing 34 minutes in a 69-64 victory against Butler and 37 minutes in a 66-59 loss to No. 4 Virginia. Josh Cunningham, held to a season-low five points, rested for 17 of the 120 minutes in the three games. Every starter except Ryan Mikesell played 30 or more minutes in each of the three games.
“In the second half, I thought we came out with great energy,” Grant said. “We just weren’t able to sustain it for the entire second half. Three games in three days, we had some guys with heavy minutes. I think it probably caught up to us a little bit.”
4. Oklahoma’s star: Guard Christian James led the Sooners with 21 points. He made 4 of 8 3-pointers. His most important 3-pointers came at the 5:01 and 4:16 marks after Dayton had twice cut the deficit to two points.
“He’s been a consistently good scorer for us,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He’s shooting with confidence, making good plays. He made some really strong plays taking the ball to the basket, so I like what he’s doing a lot.”
5. Shooting woes: Dayton made 6 of 24 3-pointers (25 percent) after topping 35 percent in the last three games. On the season, the Flyers are shooting 30.2 percent, which ranks 272nd in the country.
On the positive side, Jordan Davis made 5 of 15 3-pointers in the last two games after missing all five of his attempts against Butler.
“I think Jordan had a good tournament,” Grant said. “From a shooting standpoint, he’s struggled a little bit in terms of shots going in, but his defense in the three games here gave us a chance every single night.”