Anthony Grant described it as a game of “roller-coaster emotions and performances,” though he could have used the same words to tell the story of the 2018-19 season.
The Dayton Flyers beat Western Michigan 85-72 on Wednesday at UD Arena thanks to a dominant performance by forward Josh Cunningham, a record-tying effort by forward Obi Toppin and all-around excellence by point guard Jalen Crutcher. However, it was far from a perfect night, and the Broncos made a crowd of 12,590 nervous at times in the second half, getting as close as seven points before Dayton put the game out of reach.
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For Grant, the game provided the next chapter in a never-ending series of lessons. He sees that as part of the team’s growth. Growing up while winning is easier to do, and after a brutal stretch that saw Dayton lose five times in six games, the Flyers (6-5) now find themselves on the right side of .500 with two non-conference games to play.
“As painful as it is sometimes to watch, it’s part of what we’ve got to do,” Grant said. “We’ve got to understand what allows us to play well.”
Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s first game against Western Michigan since 1972 and its 11th straight victory against the Mid-American Conference:
1. Taking over: Cunningham scored 18 of his season-high 28 points in the second half. He made 10 of 13 shots from the field, 8 of 8 free throws and added eight rebounds and four assists. He also had five turnovers, the only negative on his stat line.
“That got me going,” Cunningham said. “Don’t say nothing when I didn’t say nothing to you. He got me going. I appreciated it. It’s just the nature of basketball.”
2. Perfect night: Toppin made 11 of 11 field goals, scoring 22 points. He tied Mike Sylvester in the school record book for most made field goals in a game without a miss. Sylvester made 11 of 11 against Xavier in 1974.
Toppin fell one made field goal short of tying St. Joseph’s Delonte West’s Atlantic 10 Conference record, which he set in 2004.
Toppin ranked fifth in the country in field-goal percentage (69.7) before the game and could rise as high as second with his current percentage (73.6). He dunked six times. In the previous home game against Detroit Mercy, he set a school record with eight dunks.
“Obi finished a lot of great plays,” Grant said. “He’s one of the few guys I’ve seen that can finish the kind of plays he finished. His teammates did a good job of getting him the ball.”
3. Hot streak: Crutcher ignited Dayton in the first half, making his first four 3-point attempts. He didn’t miss until the final seconds of the half. Dayton led by as many as 18 in the first half, and the lead was 45-33 at halftime.
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Crutcher finished the game with 14 points and 10 assists. It’s the second double-double of Crutcher’s career. He had 10 assists and 12 points last season in a 106-79 victory against Virginia Commonwealth.
4. Defensive assignment: Western Michigan (5-6) shot 48.2 percent, its fourth-best performance of the season. Michael Flowers scored 20 points, and Josh Davis had 17. They combined to make 14 of 25 shots from the field and 6 of 10 3-pointers.
However, Dayton limited Western Michigan’s leading scorer, 7-foot center Seth Dugan, to a season-low four points on 2-of-5 shooting. He averaged 16.6 points per game in the first 10 games.
“He’s very long, so at the beginning, we started double-teaming him,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t want to get him going.”
5. Big picture: Dayton continued its domination of lesser competition. It is 4-0 against teams ranked below 200 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings — No. 352 Coppin State, No. 210 Purdue Fort Wayne, No. 282 Detroit and No. 205 Western Michigan — and has won each of those games by double digits.
The No. 87 Flyers needed a victory of any sort to erase the sting of losing 72-67 to No. 122 Tulsa on Sunday.
“I feel like this is going to get us rolling,” Cunningham said. “We play on Saturday. We’re in the right place right now. We’re in good spirits.”