The Dayton Flyers were getting run out of the gym.
They air-balled their first shot against Auburn on Saturday night, turned the ball over on five of their first six possessions, committed two fouls and had the partisan Auburn Arena crowd roaring with delight.
On the bench, Flyers freshman Dwayne Cohill was getting a quick tutorial.
“Everybody was telling me, ‘When you go in bring a little energy , show some fight,’” he said. “(Dayton) Coach (Anthony) Grant has been on me a lot, telling me he wants me to be in the attack mode. He said I’ve been thinking a little too much in past games. He said the way for me to help the team the most is for me to stay in the attack mode all the time.”
When Cohill finally did enter Saturday’s game, Auburn — the No. 8 ranked team in the country — was leading 17-4 and the Flyers had upped their turnovers to eight, had had a shot blocked and had missed a layup and the only two free throws they had attempted.
Here’s what did happen:
Just 26 seconds after he got into the game, the 6-foot-2 guard drove through the Tigers defense for a layup. A half minute late he drove again, though the shot was blocked by 6-foot-11 Austin Wiley.
» FIVE TAKEAWAYS: Turnovers doom Dayton in loss to Auburn
A little more than a minute later, Cohill’s pass set up Jalen Crutcher’s three pointer. With 7:42 left in the half he assisted Ryan Mikesell on his three pointer and all of a sudden Auburn’s lead was cut to just four, 23-19.
Cohill — zeroed in on the attack mode and hoping to cut the margin to two — then drove again, but this shot was blocked was 6-foot-7 junior Anfernee McLemore.
“That’s just how I’m made,” Cohill said. “I’m not backing down from any competition or any challenge.”
Soon after, Cohill was taken out and Auburn went on wild run to balloon its halftime lead to 52-31.
When he came back in in the second half, he lifted the Flyers again, hitting the first three-pointer of his college career, getting a rebound and then assisting on another Mikesell three that cut Auburn’s lead to eight, 58-50.
But then, midway through the half, Cohill had a pair of freshman mistakes.
Twice he tried to make a scripted pass on a play that no longer unfolded as it should because Auburn had switched to a zone defense that extended out onto the court.
After the two turnovers, Grant brought Cohill back to the bench and there cradled the freshman’s head and gave him some calming advice.
“He didn’t turn it over on purpose,” Grant explained later. “I just talked to him about being patient and taking care of the ball. It’s just part of the learning and growth he has to go through.”
Asked afterward about his two “bone-headed” moments on an otherwise stellar night for him, Cohill laughed at both the unvarnished assessment and at himself.
» TWENTY PHOTOS: Top shots from Saturday night
”Yeah, those were a couple of bad plays,” he said shaking his head. “Just miscommunication with my teammates. But Coach Grant told me it would be alright and I should move on to the next play and be ready to go in again.”
Cohill did return late in the game, but his mission had been completed long before. He had brought some early passion and energy, the rest of the team had fed off of it and the Flyers ended up acquitting themselves well after the shaky start.
Auburn is the No. 4 team in the nation at forcing turnovers and UD had 23, though eight came in those first 6 ½ minutes. The Flyers shot better than Auburn — overall and from three-point range — and outrebounded the Tigers.
While UD is now 5-4, its four losses are to No. 4 Virginia., No 8 Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State and Oklahoma, which is a top 40 team.
To date, the Flyers have played the 40th toughest schedule in the nation.
After Saturday’s game Auburn coach Bruce Pearl tipped his cap to the Flyers:
“They out-worked us, they out-muscled us, they out-toughed us.”
Cohill was one of the most highly-trumpeted high school players UD has ever signed. According to 247Sports.com, he was the No. 5 recruit in Ohio from the 2018 Class and was rated No. 121 nationally. Rivals.com had him No. 92 in the nation.
He got his first recruiting letter – from Xavier – in the seventh grade and by the start of his freshman year, Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, Florida and Virginia Tech were wooing him.
He would end his career at Holy Name High School in Parma Heights with 2,182 points, which ranks him No 31 all-time among Ohio’s prep scorers.
Yet all that build-up goes by the wayside once you start playing college ball Cohill admitted:
“Coming from high school, I had to learn terminology, spacing, where I needed to be. Every day is a different experience. Really, I’m learning something new every time I go on the court.”
Grant has been impressed by him.
“He’s a tough kid,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I’m really proud of the way he responded in this environment. I thought he came in and played with great confidence. He was able to attack on multiple occasions and make plays. It’s good to see a freshman be able to do that on a stage like this.”
A new role
After the game, a couple of the older Flyers praised Cohill’s play.
“I was really proud of him,” said Mikesell, the redshirt junior who led the Flyers with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“He’s a great player,”” said senior Josh Cunningham, who added 14 points. “He’s learning out there and accepting his role.”
That role — built on a certain inner confidence and that attack mode — is one his teammates already are feeding off.
Cohill’s line in Saturday’s box score — five points, one rebound, three assists and two turnovers in 17 minutes — doesn’t truly show what he did for the Flyers at Auburn.
» FOLLOW THE FLYERS: All the links you need for the season in one place
He helped them find their courage, their composure, their confidence.
“Me and my teammates, we don’t back down from any challenge,” he said. “Every time we step on the court, no matter if it’s bigger teams or top-ranked teams like Auburn or it’s some team in the A-10, we will play hard and compete.
“I was never worried. We got a team full of dogs and every time we step on the court we got a mindset that we’re gonna compete.
“No matter who we’re playing, we’re going to show why we belong on the biggest stage, too.”
Saturday night he certainly did.
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