Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant loves to use the phrase “locked in” to describe the players’ mindset during games.
“I thought our guys were really locked into the scouting report,” Grant said last January after a victory against St. Bonaventure.
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“Our guys had to stay locked in,” Grant said Nov. 2 after an exhibition game against Capital.
Even Grant’s players have adopted the phrase.
“We’re just trying to get them locked in,” said guard Trey Landers of the newcomers last summer.
Grant used “locked in” again Saturday after a 76-46 victory over Coppin State at UD Arena, and then he expanded on what it means.
“To me, it has more to do with the awareness of what we have to do offensively, defensively, both,” Grant said, “in terms of being able to do our job at a high level and play to our identity and understand what it is we’ve got to do to give us the best chance to be successful. When we’re locked in, that means we’re all connected in terms of what we have to do on both sides of the ball. I think we’re making progress.”
Dayton recorded its most lopsided victory of the Grant era in its second game of the 2018-19 season. Here are five takeaways from the victory:
1. Best defense: Dayton (2-0) held Coppin State (0-2) to 29.6 percent shooting, the lowest mark by a Dayton opponent in the last two seasons. Every opponent shot better than 37 percent last season. The 46 points scored by Coppin State also was the lowest score by a Dayton opponent in the same time span.
Dayton led by as many as 39 points. It forced 21 turnovers and held Coppin State to 12.5 percent shooting (3 of 24) from 3-point range.
Obi Toppin led the Flyers with 19 points. Ryan Mikesell had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Jordan Davis scored 13. Jalen Crutcher had nine points and seven assists.
“The story of the game to me was I thought our guys really locked in defensively,” Grant said. “Coming into the game, we knew they were a very dangerous team from the 3-point line. We were concerned. It was very similar to our last game against North Florida. We would see a lot of ball screens. We had to be really good in terms of being able to protect the paint and extend out and guard the 3-point line. I thought tonight was probably our best effort from a defensive standpoint in terms of being connected together and being disciplined enough to do the things we needed to do with the 3-point line, with our pick-and-roll coverage, with our help defense. The guys did a really good job. It allowed us to build a substantial lead and be able to win the game.”
2. Injured star: Dayton played its second straight game without redshirt senior forward Josh Cunningham, who remained sidelined with an injured hand. He suffered the injury Tuesday in practice but could return Friday against Purdue Fort Wayne.
“He’s making progress,” Grant said. “I’m hopeful by our next game he should be back and ready to go.”
3. Rising star: Toppin started his second straight game in place of Cunningham, and it might be hard to take him out of the lineup when Cunningham returns. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday in a 78-70 victory against North Florida and made 8 of 10 shots against Coppin State.
Toppin had to step up his game to help the Flyers overcome the absence of Cunningham. That might be the silver lining in the injury.
“You never want to be without any of your guys,” Grant said. “We’re thin already. We’re a better team with Josh out there. But to see the guys be able to fill that void in his absence, it’s certainly a good sign. And once we get him back, it will hopefully make us a better team because of some of the experiences we’ve had to go through without him these two games.”
4. Roster news: Everyone wondering why four walk-ons entered the game before freshman Frankie Policelli now has an answer.
Grant said after the game Policelli, a 6-foot-7 forward from New Hartford, N.Y., and Long Island Lutheran High School, will redshirt this season. That leaves the Flyers with eight scholarship players for the season. Policelli will continue to travel with the team and practice all season.
“We talked a few days ago, and I think right now for Frankie, the decision has been made we’re going to redshirt him this year,” Grant said. “Just from a developmental standpoint, he needs that. I think that’ll be the best thing for him. The thing I talked to him about is the opportunity for him to use this year very similarly to what Obi (Toppin) did last year from a physical and mental standpoint to continue to grow and develop. He’s 18 years old. His upside is tremendous. The thing I talked to him about is myself and our staff believe he has the chance to be a really good player for us. We feel he needs the year.”
5. Low ranking: This was Dayton’s biggest rout since a 92-56 victory against Virginia Military Institute on Dec. 23, 2016. That was also the last time it played an opponent ranked his low in the Pomeroy ratings. Coppin State ranks 348th.
Dayton did not have a choice when it came to playing this game. It’s considered part of the Battle 4 Atlantis event. These tournaments allow teams to play four games: three at the tournament and one on the mainland. The game has to be played within 14 days of the tournament.
Playing Coppin State, an opponent that won’t help Dayton rise in the Pomeroy or the NET, the new NCAA Evaluation Tool, was the price Dayton paid to get three quality opponents in the Bahamas. It will play Butler and then Virginia or Middle Tennessee State. Its final opponent will be Oklahoma, Florida, Stanford or Wisconsin.