Coach Anthony Grant fielded a question about the next game, which happens at the end of almost every postgame press conference, after his Dayton Flyers rallied to beat Duquesne 68-64 with a 4-0 run in the final two minutes Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 13,147 at UD Arena.
“What do you think about the tough one coming up at Saint Louis, the preseason favorite?” Grant was asked.
“Have we had an easy one yet?” Grant said. “No. None of them.”
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In truth, Dayton has enjoyed two relatively tension-free games in Atlantic 10 Conference play, but they have been overshadowed by six nail-biters and another game, against Saint Joseph’s, that was decided in the final 10 minutes.
The Flyer Faithful have been the Flyer Fretful for good reason. This is a hard team to watch if you judge it by how many nerves it wrecks in 40 minutes of play. On the other hand, it’s a joy to watch if you like entertaining games, and the Flyers (15-7, 7-2) have won more than they’ve lost.
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Dayton moved into third place in the Atlantic 10 Conference all by themselves with this victory, surpassed last season’s victory total and finally beat a team — Duquesne (15-7, 6-3) fell into fourth place — from near the top of the standings.
“I thought that was a heck of a college basketball game today,” Grant said. “Incredible environment. The crowd was rocking. Duquesne’s got a good basketball team. They gave us everything we wanted. They had some guys step up and really play well. Our guys had an opportunity to make a decision there just in terms of how we wanted to handle the adversity that hit us today, and I was really proud. I thought we grew up some today.”
Here are four reasons Dayton beat the Dukes:
1. Starring role: Dayton redshirt freshman forward Obi Toppin hit his career high in points for the second straight game. He had 25 points Tuesday against Saint Joseph’s and 26 in this game.
Toppin made 11 of 16 shots (68.7 percent) as his season percentage dropped from 69.2 to 69.1. After the game, Toppin was asked if he feels he’s at the point where he can take over games.
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“If that’s what the coach of the team needs me to do, I’ll work my heart out to do so,” Toppin said, “but I just go with the flow in the game and whatever comes to me comes.”
2. Big shots: The game was tied seven times in the last 10 minutes. The last tie came with two minutes to play when Marcus Weathers rebounded a missed 3-pointer and scored on a layup.
On Dayton’s next possession, Jalen Crutcher hit a running floater with 1:39 to play. Crutcher then hit 1 of 2 free throws with 43 seconds left to give Dayton a three-point lead. Jordan Davis made 1 of 2 free throws with 0.6 seconds to go for the final margin.
Dayton was outscored 7-0 by George Mason down the stretch in its last loss at home but made all the big plays at the end in this game.
“This is a big game for us,” Crutcher said. “We were both 6-2, so we needed this win.”
3. Second-half comeback: Dayton trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, was down 36-28 at halftime and faced a 48-39 deficit at the 12:19 mark against Duquesne. That’s where the comeback began.
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After missing its first nine 3-pointers, Dayton made four in a row in a three-minute stretch. A 3 by Jordan Davis at the 10:18 mark capped a 12-1 run, giving Dayton a 50-48 lead. Crutcher hit back-to-back 3-pointers during the run. He finished with 16 points.
“You have doubts, but you try not to think about it too much,” Crutcher said. “The mind is really powerful. Our coaches were telling us to keep shooting no matter what because they know we can shoot.”
4. Late stops: Duquesne’s Frankie Hughes missed a tough shot over the arms of Toppin at the 1:19 mark with Duquesne trailing 66-64. With 49 seconds to play, following a turnover by Toppin, Duquesne went the other way on the fast break, but Ryan Mikesell intercepted a pass under the basket.
Duquesne had one last chance to tie the game in the final seconds. Sincere Carry missed a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
“There were plays all over the place tonight,” Grant said, “where we had to grow up and understand this is what you have to be prepared to do in order to put yourself in position to play for a championship.”