The Dayton Flyers have all the comforts of home at UD Arena. Some you might expect: friendly fans, familiar shooting backgrounds and a fancy locker room, for example.
There’s a smaller touch Dayton players enjoy before every game, though. A number of packs of chewing gum line the scorer’s table near the bench before every game. There were seven different packs and flavors Tuesday before Dayton’s game against Detroit Mercy.
“I don’t chew gum during the game,” forward Obi Toppin said. “I chew before the game, and when I do, I mix the mint and the strawberry.”
Of course, gum is an easy thing to pack for road trips, so it can’t explain Dayton’s success at home over the years or its struggles on the road. The Flyers were 2-13 away from UD Arena last season and 12-4 at home. This season, they’re 4-1 at home and 1-2 on a neutral court.
The first and only true road game on the non-conference schedule arrives at 8:30 p.m. Saturday when Dayton plays the No. 8 Auburn Tigers (7-1) in Alabama. Dayton lost to No. 4 Virginia 65-59 on a neutral court in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but this might be the most difficult game of the season because it takes place on Auburn’s home court.
“I’m really excited,” forward Ryan Mikesell said. “It’s going to be a fun environment.”
Here are five things to know about the game:
1. SEC Country: This is the seventh straight season Dayton has played a road game against a Southeastern Conference school. It won 81-76 at Alabama in the 2012-13 season, won 83-80 at Mississippi in 2013-14, lost 69-55 at Arkansas in 2014-15, won 72-67 at Vanderbilt in 2015-16, won 77-72 at Alabama in 2016-17 and lost 61-59 last season at Mississippi State.
Dayton’s two-game series against Mississippi State and Auburn end this season, and if the SEC ever goes to a 20-game schedule like some of the other power conferences, it will make it even harder for Dayton to schedule these games.
Mississippi State coach Ben Howland, whose team beat Dayton 65-58 at UD Arena on Nov. 30, didn’t sound like a coach eager to play the Flyers again anytime soon.
“I was really questioning what I was thinking by scheduling Dayton,” he told the Associated Press after the game. “I told (Anthony Grant) when I shook his hand that we’re not playing them anymore.”
2. Familiar names: Four of the five Auburn players who scored in double figures against Dayton last season start for the Tigers this season. Auburn has the 36th-most experienced team in the country with three seniors, five juniors and a sophomore in the rotation.
In Auburn’s 73-60 victory at Dayton last season, it broke open a close game in the final seven minutes of the first half, led 35-24 at the break and didn’t let Dayton get closer than eight points in the second half.
“Obviously, tonight when you look at 10 assists and 19 turnovers, that tells a story,” Grant said after that game. “I knew coming into tonight, our ability to take care of the basketball, keeping them out of transition and not wasting possessions was going to be a huge factor in the game.”
3. Peaking program: Auburn finished 26-8 last season, winning the second most games in school history. It won the SEC regular-season title for the third time and played in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
This season, Auburn ranked 11th in the Associated Press preseason poll, the first time it opened the season ranked since 1999. The Tigers have so far lived up to that billing, beating Washington, Xavier and Arizona — all ranked in the top 75 of the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool). Auburn’s only loss came against No. 3 Duke: 78-72 in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational.
4. Home-court edge: Auburn has won 18 straight games against non-conference opponents at Auburn Arena. It averaged 8,221 fans last season. Built in 2010 at a cost of $86 million, it’s the 111th-largest arena in the country with room for 9,121 fans.
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Grant was 3-3 at Auburn in six seasons as the head coach at Alabama.
“They’ve got a good environment, good home court with their student body, and they’ve got good players,” Grant said. “They’re a well-coached team.”
5. Big opportunity: Auburn ranks seventh in the NET (NCAA evaluation tool) and eighth in the Ken Pomeroy rankings. Dayton would make up losing at home to Mississippi State if it can win this game, but it’s a big underdog.
The Flyers are 0-6 against teams in the top 15 of the Pomeroy rankings since 2013 and haven’t beaten a non-conference opponent ranked this high by Pomeroy since No. 8 Louisville in 2007.