Holmes came into Tuesday’s game at UD Arena with the best field goal percentage in the Atlantic 10 this season. He was the Flyers’ leading scorer and an almost certainty to break UD’s all-time record for blocked shots in a season.
Against Fordham, he didn’t break character.
He made 8 of 13 field goal attempts (61.5 percent), which wasn’t far off his league-leading 65.9 percent. He scored a game-high 19 points (he was averaging 12.1) and he added a game-high 12 rebounds.
He also had three blocked shots, which gives him 50 for the season, five off the record of 55 set by Steve McElvene in the 2015-16 season.
Holmes’ solid play helped the Flyers hold off Fordham, 68-61, and raise their record to 13-7.
It’ because of performances like this that the UD big man got his other “character” test this season.
Earlier this month, he signed a season-long Name, Image and Likeness contract with Far Hills Development LLC, which owns and operates 13 Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken restaurants and a few other food entities in the Miami Valley.
Launched initially on social media, one promotion in an Instagram video features Holmes – wearing a black Lee’s Chicken visor and his No. 15 UD uniform – serving food over the counter and from the drive through window, cleaning tables in the restaurant and then shooting a chicken strip into a Lee’s bucket a few feet away
“Yeah, I had some stage fright,” he admitted after the Fordham game. “But I’m taking CMM 100 (a principles of oral communication class) which has helped.”
He will be featured on a billboard, as well, and at meet and greet tentatively scheduled for next month at a Lee’s restaurant.
Homes real introduction to the community though has come on the basketball court.
Ranked No. 39 in the nation in the 2021 recruiting class by 247Sports, he became the highest-rated recruit ever to sign with UD.
The Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona as a junior, he had offers from a Who’s Who of college programs – Kansas, Notre Dame, Arizona, LSU, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Cal, USC, Texas Tech, Tennessee Virginia, Marquette and Arizona State – but chose Dayton.
Earlier this year he talked about Dayton as the place where he felt most comfortable and his dad, DaRon Sr. (a Notre Dame grad, while DaRon II’s mom, Tomika, is a Kansas alumna) stressed how they had been impressed the way coach Anthony Grant and his staff developed Obi Toppin, who came to UD mostly unknown and ended up the National College Player of the Year and No. 1 pick of the New York Knicks.
Just 20 games in his college career, Holmes is showing noticeable growth.
“When he first came here he didn’t have a lot of post moves,” said fellow Flyers freshman Malachi Smith, who added 13 points against Fordham. “His finishing was always good, but his moves before the shot, I felt like he needed to work on that.
“This game he showed he has that in his arsenal and that will be big for us moving forward in the next couple of years.”
After the game, Holmes claimed he’s “always had” those moves and can “bring them out now and then.”
Flyers coach Anthony Grant said that’s not always easy to do against the 9-9 Rams:
“They do a great job of putting (on) extreme pressure. We had a variety of guys bring the ball up the floor because of all that denial. It’s hard to run the offense when the floor is broken the way it was tonight.
“Part of that is they try to get you out of character and do things you don’t necessarily do.”
Just over six minutes into the sometimes physical game, Holmes also was tested when he was fouled by Fordham’s 6-foot-10 junior center Rostyslav Novitskyi while leaping for an alley-oop pass.
Following the referee’s call, he turned go to the free throw line when he was jostled by the Rams’ 205-pound guard, Antrell Charlton.
Refs quickly broke up the scrum and after a video review of the incident, they called a technical foul on Charlton.
“I was just trying to walk back to the free throw line and I got little love tap, a little bump,” Holmes said with a grin.
“You know how that gets some time.”
Most of the time after that Holmes adjusted to Fordham’s defense and used a variety of inside moves to score. He used fakes to get defenders airborne too early or committed in the wrong direction. He had a pair of dunks, an up-and-under score and even a running left-handed hook shot.
Among his three blocks was a deflection of a long-range attempt by the Rams’ Darius Quisenberry – the Wayne High grad from Springfield and originally Tecumseh High – who came into the game leading the A-10 in scoring, with a 17.9 ppg average.
He’s a grad student transfer who scored 1,213 points at Youngstown State in his three previous seasons in the Horizon League. Two seasons ago he scored a career-best 41 points against Wright State.
He had just scored 36 against Davidson on Saturday night as well and had hopes of a joyous homecoming game Tuesday night at UD Arena – he had a cheering section behind the visitors’ bench – but he struggled against the Flyers.
He did finish with a team-high 17 points, but he went 4-for-16 from the floor.
It hurt Quisenberry and the rest of the Rams – something UD’s Malachi Smith noted after the game -- that they were without their injured big man, 6-foot-9 , 220-pound Chuba Ohams, who averaged 13.8 ppg and led the A-10 in rebounding.
That made it even harder for the Rams to find an effective counter to Holmes.
And when the Flyers young post player truly gets in character on the home court, he can be effusive. He likes to share the success he and his teammates are having with the crowd.
When the Flyers made several big plays in a row against the Rams, there was the beaming Homes, trotting down the court, his arms extended to the 13,407 fans, urging them to stand and get loud.
After a Flyers’ victory, he often sprints straight toward the Red Scare section so he can celebrate with the students by slapping palms and accepting pats on the back.
And on his way off Blackburn Court and back up the Arena tunnel, he often stops to sign autographs for young fans leaning over the railing with pens and something to sign.
As the season has progressed, he’s been wearing long tights over his legs.
Since the freezing temperatures have hit and he’s from Arizona, he was asked Tuesday if the white leggings he wore against the Rams were because he was cold or were they just a coolness statement?
“I think they look cool,” he said with a grin.
DaRon Holmes II is a guy who knows how to stay in character.
He knows how to look the part.