Highlights: Dayton's Ibi Watson scores 20 vs. Drake
Photo: David Jablonski - Staff Writer
Photo: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Archdeacon: Watson’s career-high night ignites Flyers

Dayton guard scores 20 in victory over Drake

Sometimes the home crowd cheers you. Sometimes everyone boos you.

Ibi Watson knows both quite well.

Saturday night at UD Arena it was all the former.

With his No. 14 Dayton Flyers surprisingly struggling against a smaller, less-athletic Drake team, the 6-foot-5 junior guard came into the game in the first half and finally gave UD some cushion.

The Flyers were leading by just four when he scored seven straight points — including the first of what would be four three-pointers on the night — in just 71 seconds.

That got the stilled crowd roaring in full-throated cheer for him and his deadly prowess from long range.

In the second half he provided some dead-eye déjà vu when he scored eight straight points – fueled by a pair of threes – in just a minute and 48 seconds.

That helped break the game open and UD won easily, 78-47.

Watson scored a career-high 20 points on 4-for-6 shooting from three-point range. He was also a perfect 4-for-4 at the free throw line.

Now for the room full of boos.

“I kinda got a funny story about it,” he said after the game.

Back in 2016, he was a senior basketball standout at Pickerington Central High School just outside of Columbus and deep in the heart of Ohio State country. He had been recruited by several colleges, including UD, which had offered him a scholarship already as a sophomore.

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“We had this thing called Senior Day at our high school and all the seniors come to the auditorium and they announce where everybody is going to college,” he said with a growing smile. “When they first put me on camera, everybody was cheering. But when they said ‘Michigan,’ they all started booing.”

The raspberries only intensified when everyone saw he was wearing a Michigan shirt, as well.

“Yeah, I almost got booed out of my high school,” he laughed.

“Coming from Columbus, it’s pretty odd I guess, but my dream school growing up was always Michigan,” he said. “It was something like, ‘I gotta go there.’ That was my goal.”

He was especially influenced by a couple of people. Caris LeVert had played at Pickerington and then Michigan before going on to the NBA.

And Watson said he had built “a great relationship” with Bacari Alexander, then a Wolverines assistant coach.

He said he wanted to play at a Power 5 school and get all the big-time experiences that came with that. And in two years at Michigan, he played on two teams that won the Big Ten championship and made the NCAA Tournament. His sophomore year the Wolverines played in the NCAA title game.

Dayton Flyers highlights: Ibi Watson
Video: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

He appeared in 45 games at Michigan, but got little playing time on the talent-loaded teams. As a sophomore he averaged 2.2 points per game. His career high as a Wolverine was seven points.

Once Alexander left the program – and wanting more of a chance to play – Watson decided to transfer.

He wanted to play closer to home so his mom, Molly – who had raised him as a single parent and remains his “best friend” – would be able to see his games more easily,

He said he quickly focused on UD again:

“I was thinking in my head, ‘I hope Dayton really wants me because it’s a place I’d love to be.”

Familiar with the Flyers

When he initially was recruited to Dayton by coach Archie Miller’s staff, Watson became a familiar face a UD.

“I think I came on four visits here,” he said. “I was pretty familiar with the place.

“I came to one game my sophomore year of high school. I played in the team camp twice and I came on at least two more separate visits. I really liked the Dayton program and I liked Coach Archie a lot when he was here.“

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He also knew Trey Landers, who was being recruited here.

“I’ve been playing with Trey since ninth grade – AAU – so we’ve known each other a while,” he said.

On one visit his mom got to meet Landers’ mom, Tracy, and that furthered the connection.

As he left Michigan, he put together a list of schools he wanted to visit – including Pittsburgh, Duquesne and Ohio University – and then planned to visit Dayton last.

Molly said UD assistant coach Anthony Solomon convinced them to move the Flyers to the top of the list.

Watson came to Dayton, met head coach Anthony Grant and the other players, was offered a scholarship and accepted, much to the irritation of Pitt, where he was scheduled to visit next.

He joined a talent-laden team here – one that includes three other experienced transfers – and said now, nine games into the season, the players are beginning to understand their roles and what Grant wants from them.

“Like I said earlier this season, on any night anybody can score 20 points on this team,” Watson said. “The depth is really important. Coach Grant has kind of established in me that he wants me to come into the game and bring energy, play defense and score.

“And tonight just happened to be my night.”

Hold the follow through

Watson is the Flyers’ most accurate three point shooter. He’s made 20 of 41 attempts for a whopping 48.8 percent.

But more surprising than the four long-range shots he made Saturday night was one of the two he missed.

With 13:47 left in the second half – instead of one of his usual rainbow arching, net snappers – he unloaded an air ball from the top of the key.

“In my mind, if I air ball it, it was probably the ball’s fault,” he said puckishly when the subject was brought up afterwards.

“I put in so much work on my shot that I feel EVERY shot is going to go in. So if I air ball, the next one is cash to me.”

And it was.

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Some 2 ½ minutes after that misfire, he attempted his next three, made it and grinned as he came back down the court.

Just 88 seconds later he launched another one and – much to the delight of the crowd – it too was good.

He put an exclamation point on that trey with an exaggerated follow through that froze in the air.

His right arm was extended toward the heavens – or at least the shooting gods — and his right hand, was bent at the wrist and tilted toward the rim.

“That’s something Coach Slo — Coach Solomon — tells me a lot,” he said. “He says, ‘Be sure to hold your follow through because you rarely miss when you do’”

But wait a minute!

Didn’t he hold that follow through on the air ball, too?

He said he did, but like he also said:

“It was the ball’s fault.”

And right now – in the euphoria of an 8-1 season that includes the best start the Flyers have had in 11 years and the program’s highest ranking in 12 – everyone in UD Arena is willing to believe that.

That’s why Ibi Watson heard nothing but cheers Saturday night.

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