Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant knows his team started Atlantic 10 Conference play with Rhode Island. Beyond that, he doesn’t know the schedule by heart.
A coach’s focus is always on the next game. That seemed to be the case with Grant when he was asked Tuesday about the tough stretch in the league his team faces right at the start of the conference schedule: at Rhode Island (8-3) on Dec. 30; and then home games against St. Bonaventure (8-3) on Jan. 2 and Virginia Commonwealth (7-4) on Jan. 5.
Grant didn’t want his players thinking about any of that this week following a 69-60 victory against Southern at UD Arena on Tuesday in the final non-conference game. He wanted them all to enjoy the Christmas break. Most of the players were able to leave Dayton, though traveling all the way home was not an option for some international players. Toumani Camara, for instance, traveled to Florida, where he went to high school, instead of home to Belgium.
“They’ve been here really since June,” Grant said. “They went home for maybe a brief period of time in August. So this is a good break. I’m looking forward to shutting down for a couple of days and letting these guys get away, and we’ll be ready when we get back.”
Dayton finished 8-5 in non-conference play. That matches the non-conference record it had in 2018-19, Grant’s second season. His first team finished 6-6. The 2019-20 team that won 29 games started A-10 play with an 11-2 record. A year ago, the Flyers were 4-1 in a season shortened by the pandemic.
Dayton’s season to this point has had great highs (winning the ESPN Events Invitational) and a low rarely seen by the program (losing three straight games at home). Here’s a breakdown of Dayton’s play in November and December.
MVP: No one expected Malachi Smith to live up to his brother Scoochie Smith’s legacy right away in his freshman season, but he has done that. He’s won three of A-10 rookie of the week awards, putting him on track to win the rookie of the year award. He made a clutch layup — something his brother was known for — in the final minute against Kansas, cutting the deficit to two points and giving Dayton a chance to win the game in the final seconds.
Smith ranks third on the team with 10.0 points per game. He’s just five total points behind DaRon Holmes II and Toumani Camara, who each have 130. Smith leads the the team with 4.7 assists per game. That would be the second-highest mark by a freshman in UD history behind Juwan Staten (5.4 in 2010-11).
Smith is the first freshman to start at point guard since Jalen Crutcher, who moved into the starting lineup seven games into this freshman season. Smith has started since the fourth game. His numbers compare favorably to Crutcher’s freshman numbers: better shooting (53.8 to 51.9 effective field-goal percentage); twice as many steals (2.0 to 1.0); more assists (4.7 to 4.4); more points (10.0 to 9.2); and more rebounds (4.2 to 2.8). Of course, Smith will have to continue to produce during the grind of the A-10 schedule to match Crutcher’s first season.
Best transfer: Of the three transfers to join the program this season, forward Toumani Camara has had the biggest impact, though turnover issues (3.3 per game) have plagued him. He’s tied for the team lead in points (10.4) and leads the team in rebounding (6.8). Camara is shooting 58.5 percent (48 of 82) from 2-point range but 16.7 percent (4 of 24) from 3-point range. In his first two seasons at Georgia, he made 18 of 81 3-pointers (22.2 percent).
Best returner: Four of the six returning players are averaging double-figure minutes. Guard Elijah Weaver leads that group with 23.4 minutes per game. He’s the team’s top scorer off the bench with 9.6 points per game, though his minutes declined in the last two games. He had one point in 15 minutes against Mississippi and four points in 11 minutes against Southern. In the first 11 games, he dropped below 20 minutes only once.
Best defender: Right behind Smith in terms of freshman impact is forward DaRon Holmes II, who is one of three players to start all 13 games. Camara and Blakney are the others. Holmes II blocked four shots against Southern. He has 30 in 13 games. He’s on pace to block 71 shots. The school record of 55 was set by Steve McElvene in the 2015-16 season.
Best victory: Dayton, which ranks 106th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool, beat No. 6 Kansas 74-73 on a last-second shot by Mustapha Amzil on Nov. 25 in the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational. That remains the only loss for the Jayhawks (9-1), who rank seventh in the Associated Press top-25 poll.
The only other teams with victories against teams in the top 10 of the NET are: Duke; Alabama; Wisconsin; Rutgers; Ohio State; Villanova; Texas Tech; and Connecticut. Only No. 156 Rutgers, which upset Purdue, ranks below Dayton.
Worst loss: Outscored 14-3 in the last four minutes Dayton lost 87-81 to No. 265 Austin Peay on Nov. 20. That was its third straight loss at home. The streak started with a 59-58 loss to No. 184 UMass Lowell and then a 78-59 loss to No. 256 Lipscomb. Austin Peay (4-6) has lost four of six games since beating Dayton, while Lipscomb (6-8) has lost seven of its last nine games.
Best stat: Dayton has shown great improvement in rebounding. lt ranks 67th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (32.8) and 39th (23.5) on the defensive side, according to KenPom.com. It ranked 307th (22.0) and 266th (17.4) last season. Dayton had a plus 2.0 rebounding margin last season and is plus 6.0 this season.
Worst stat: Dayton ranks 311th in the nation in turnover margin (minus 3.0) and 273rd in turnovers per game (14.6). It commits a turnover on almost one quarter of its possessions. It ranks 307th in the nation in turnover percentage (22.0). The national average is 19.0.