Back-to-back plays by Davis get crowd going and ‘change the game’

Dayton never trailed again vs. Bonnies after his second-half baskets

Kyle Davis knows how to take direction.

The Dayton senior guard wasn’t much of a factor through most of the St. Bonaventure game Saturday. But with the Flyers playing without their usual pep, coach Archie Miller implored his defensive-minded star to make something happen.

“I started out slow, and the coach pulled me over in the second half and said, ‘You need to get the team going. Be aggressive,’” Davis said.

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The Flyers were trailing the gritty Bonnies, 43-42, with 12:15 to go when Davis produced two difference-making plays that generated the biggest roars of the day from the sellout crowd of 13,455 at UD Arena.

He grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a transition basket in traffic. He then made a steal and went the distance again, making a layup, drawing a foul and converting the three-point play for a 47-43 edge with just under 11 minutes left.

The Flyers never trailed again in a 76-72 victory.

“Kyle clearly finds a way to change the game without anything other than effort,” Miller said. “The plays he made back-to-back were incredible, ‘arena-emotion-lifting’ plays. He gets our crowd going.”

Davis finished with six points, four rebounds, two steals and one assist, and his penchant for making an impact hasn’t ebbed despite coming off the bench of late after being a starter since his sophomore year.

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The 6-foot-1 Chicago native hurt his ankle against Duquesne on Jan. 14, missed the next two games and has become the Flyers’ super sub in the last seven outings. He’s averaged 7.3 points while shooting 67 percent from the field. He’s had 11 assists, nine steals and two turnovers in that span.

In 17 games as a first-stringer, he averaged 8.9 points and shot 57.3 percent with 51 assists, 35 steals and 19 turnovers.

Though he’s still playing starter minutes, his teammates give him kudos for accepting his role.

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“He’s been a real leader,” point guard Scoochie Smith said. “The way he’s handled it, I don’t think many guys could do that in their last year.

“He’s a team-first guy,” forward Charles Cooke said. “He keeps playing and doesn’t say a word. I commend him for that. A lot of guys can’t handle that — especially a senior who has contributed so much to this team.

“He brings a lot of energy off the bench. And as you saw with those back-to-back plays, we definitely need him.”

Davis, though, has embraced his new status as the team’s most valuable reserve.

“I went down, and it’s the next man up,” he said. “I’m all about winning. Coming off the bench doesn’t bother me at all right now. If I’m on the bench, I see places we should attack. I observe on and off the court.”

The Flyers are 21-5 overall and tied for first with VCU at 12-2 in the Atlantic 10 with four games left. They’ve reeled off five straight wins to put themselves on the right side of the bubble for an NCAA tourney bid — something that seemed unlikely given what they’ve had to overcome.

The offseason death of popular center Steve McElvene, who was viewed by many as having NBA potential, would have derailed many teams. Add to that the prolonged absences of starting forwards Josh Cunningham and Kendall Pollard.

Though the Flyers still don’t have the team they thought they would at the start of the season — Cunningham is trying to play his way back into shape after suffering a torn ankle ligament in November — the players never wavered in their quest to make a program-record fourth straight NCAA tourney trip.

“That goal was never taken off that list when both of those guys were hurt,” Davis said of Cunningham and Pollard. “We’ve been through adversity all four years now — from starting off slow my first season (opening A-10 play with a 1-5 record), to losing two players my sophomore year (Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson were kicked off the team), to the death of Steve, to needing Josh and KP to come back. We know how to get through adversity. You just battle every day.”


TUESDAY’S GAME

George Mason at Dayton, 7 p.m., Spectrum Sports TV, 1290

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