Archdeacon: Fun-loving big man Tshimanga making impact for Flyers

Dayton takes 11-game winning streak into Saturday’s game against Saint Louis

So what’s life like now that his team is 20-2, ranked No. 6 in the nation and become the toast of the town.

» PHOTOS: Top 50 0f seasonGame-by-game recap

Jordy Tshimanga — turning down the volume on the French singer Dadju that was playing in his headphones — didn’t miss a beat.

“I’ve got about two new girlfriends now – Jasmine and Sabrina,” the Dayton Flyers big man said with an impish grin as he saw me move my tape recorder higher and higher so I wouldn’t miss a word.

“Wow, really?” I said. “How’s that work?”

“Yep,” he said with ever-growing glee. “One goes to Wright State. One goes to UD.”

Then, realizing he’d just set the hook perfectly, he held up his hands and started to laugh:

“Naah, I’m just playing ….I’m not that kind of guy”

Maybe not when it comes to girlfriends, but the 6-foot-11 center certainly has upped his game on the basketball court as this season has progressed.

He’s showing more confidence now, is fouling less and playing better defense. Most of all, when he comes off the bench, he gives UD another reliable presence inside and that is something this team truly can use.

If the Flyers have one soft spot this season, it’s been their physicality and rebounding inside against teams who have height and beef and aggression in the paint.

Their only two losses – to No. 3 Kansas and No. 24 Colorado, both in overtime – came against teams who outrebounded them.

Kansas had an eight-board advantage and Colorado’s was 10 (42-32). The Flyers also ended up with their hands full Jan. 29 at Duquesne, winning by four, but getting beaten on the boards by five.

» PREVIEW: Rebounding focus for Dayton in rematch with Saint Louis

And in today’s matchup at UD Arena with St, Louis – a team they escaped on the road thanks to an ice water in the veins three by Jalen Crutcher at the buzzer in overtime Jan. 17 – they face the opponent who has bullied them on the boards the most this season.

St. Louis outrebounded UD 45-33 in that first game. Hasahn French, the Billikens’ 6-foot-7, 245-pound force inside, grabbed 17 rebounds and scored 16 points, while 6-3 guard Jordan Goodwin added 13 rebounds and 15 points.

UD will need Tshimanga – finally recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of preseason practices and the first three games this season – to help spell 6-9 Obi Toppin today, and, at times, play alongside him.

Flyers coach Anthony Grant said Tshimanga is a welcome addition on the court:

“Jordy’s finally healthy and he just needs to continue to get reps, whether in practice or in games. On the offensive end he can score inside and rebound and on the defensive end he can rebound and guard the bigs. He has an ability to guard bigger, more athletic players inside.

“He’s got a chance to really help our team.”

‘I’m finally returning to my senses’

Tshimanga – who grew up in Montreal and finished high school in the Boston area while under the mentorship of his older brother Yannick, one of the six siblings, all who have played college basketball – was a four-star recruit.

» DUAL STREAKS: UD men, women undefeated in 2020

He was sought by the likes of Arizona, Pittsburgh, UNLV, Providence. Minnesota, Oklahoma State and SMU, but chose Nebraska, in part because of an assistant coach who befriended him.

He played two seasons with the Cornhuskers – 62 games and 27 starts while averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds a game – but when the assistant left the program, he decided to transfer, as well.

He chose Dayton and had to sit out last season to meet NCAA transfer requirements. The knee problem further sidelined him and when he finally started playing again he didn’t feel 100 percent physically or mentally.

“Sometimes early on when I’d get in I’d be thinking ‘Don’t mess up! …Don’t mess up!’”

He said there were times he rushed, times he tried to do too much:

“I had to calm myself down and tell myself l just got to go out and play and do what I do. When you control what you can control, work hard and work to make those around you better, that’s when the magic happens.”

Although he’s not fouling like he did, he’s still fourth on the team in personals while being eighth in minutes played.

But he’s tops among the rotation players in shooting percentage, having made 22 of his 34 shots this season for a 64.7 percent average from the floor. He’s averaging 3.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 10.3 minutes a game.

If he keeps making the advancements he has this season, he knows all those numbers will improve:

“I just got back two months ago, but I’m finally returning to my senses.”

‘It’s a vibe … I like’

The two biggest personalities on the team belong to the two biggest players – Toppin and Tshimanga.

“The day Jordy stepped on campus we knew what type of guy he was,” Toppin said before practice the other day. “He definitely brings the light out in everybody. He’s got a great attitude. He’s fun to be around.”

And the two big men are now on the court together more and more, as well.

» WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Flyers finding their groove

“Me and Jordy are still getting the hang of each other, but the more he’s in, the more we’ll get to know each other and what to expect – kinda like Jalen (Crutcher) and me,” Toppin said.

“I know when we’re in together it can put more pressure on the other team trying to deal with two big men who are really skilled. If they collapse on me, he’ll be open and vice versa for him. It’s just making us a better team.”

The Flyers are one of the most celebrated teams in college basketball, but you wondered if they were known even back in Montreal.

“Montreal?” Tshimanga smiled. “I think the whole world knows of Dayton now.”

He said the embrace he enjoys most though is on the UD campus – “people are giving us high-5s. it’s a vibe, a positive energy, I like,” — and especially at UD Arena, where he has become a crowd favorite.

“I definitely feel the love,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart I appreciate it and I just love ‘em all back.”

Which brings us back to the girlfriends’ story …

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