On a night in which the Dayton Flyers committed 23 turnovers at Auburn Arena, the biggest gaffe belonged to the SEC Network, which ran five mugshots of UNC Asheville players under the names of the UD starters before the game. Only Ryan Mikesell looked plausibly like the player pictured under his name.
Unlike UNC Asheville, which lost 67-41 to the No. 8 Auburn Tigers on Tuesday and most of Auburn’s other opponents, Dayton avoided a blowout, trimming a 19-point halftime deficit to six points early in the second half and twice getting as close as eight points in the final five minutes before finally losing 82-72.
In many ways, this game mirrored Dayton’s losses to No. 4 Virginia, No. 22 Mississippi and Oklahoma, which received one top-25 vote this week. Dayton (5-4) made runs. It was competitive. It just wasn’t good enough.
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Dayton coach Anthony Grant once again had to repeat there are no moral victories for this program, but he also focused on the positives. This team has fight. It doesn’t quit. He hopes that translates to victories down the line.
“I told the guys after the game they competed for 40 minutes,” he said. “We took some hits. They came out and tried to set the tone, and our guys responded and stayed together. The willingness to stay together and play for each other, that’s a great attribute for our team right now.”
Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s first true road game of the season:
1. Too many mistakes: The Flyers turned the ball over on their first three possessions and finished the first half with 16. That was the biggest reason they faced a 17-4 deficit after the first seven minutes and a 51-32 deficit at halftime.
All seven Flyers who played double-digit minutes finished the game with at least two turnovers. Point guard Jalen Crutcher led the team with seven.
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“I feel if we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d be fine,” forward Josh Cunningham said. “We’d be right there.”
Auburn’s first eight opponents averaged 20.4 turnovers per game. It ranks fourth in the country in that category.
“It’s tough to simulate speed and athleticism in practice,” Grant said. “I thought, especially in the second half, our guys adjusted well and were able to slow things down and make plays and were able to find quality shots.”
2. Not enough stops: Dayton overcame the slow and sloppy start to cut Auburn’s lead to 23-19 with 7:42 left in the half. However, Bryce Brown, who led Auburn (8-1) with 34 points, made three 3-pointers in a 90-second span late in the half.
In the second half, after Trey Landers capped a 10-0 Dayton run with a dunk at the 13:31 mark, cutting the deficit to 58-52, Auburn responded with 3-pointers by Samir Doughty and Brown on its next two possessions.
“You’ve got to give Auburn credit,” Grant said. “They’re a really good team, the eighth-ranked team in the country. In their building, we knew they would play with a lot of energy and emotion, and we would have to sustain our effort and our focus. I was proud of the guys for being able to do that in a hostile environment. They got us down 17-4. Guys never wavered. They continued to compete. They continued to stay together and gave us a chance. The run they had at the end of the first half was huge.”
3. Better shooting: Dayton shot better than Auburn from the field (48.2 to 45.9) and better from 3-point range (47.8 to 36.4). Dayton’s outside shooting was a weak spot early this season, but it has made progress in the last two games (20 of 41).
Mikesell made 3 of 5 3-pointers and led the Flyers with 15 pointsn. Crutcher made 3 of 7 and scored 11 points. Jordan Davis made 2 of 6 and scored nine points. Dwayne Cohill made his first career 3-pointer. Even Josh Cunningham and Obi Toppin made shots from long range.
“I think our team is a good 3-point shooting team,” Grant said. “We have to be able to understand the type of 3-point shots we want to get. When the ball moves and we get rhythm 3s, you shoot the ball better.”
4. Opposing viewpoint: Dayton not only shot the ball better than Auburn, it won the rebound battle as well (37-27). Dayton had an 18-12 advantage in second-chance points thanks to 14 offensive rebounds.
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“They out-worked us, they out-muscled us, they out-toughed us,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said in his postgame press conference. “Those would be three things that would be obvious to the observer.”
That didn’t matter because of the huge turnover disparity. Auburn had 10 turnovers. It scored 32 points off Dayton’s turnovers. The Tigers also blocked nine shots to Dayton’s two.
5. Big picture: The Flyers missed a chance to build a NCAA tournament at-large resume in this stretch of games, but even with a 5-4 record, Dayton ranks 74th in the Ken Pomeroy ratings. That’s just four spots behind the top-ranked Atlantic 10 team, Davidson (8-1). The Flyers have played the 40th-toughest schedule in the country.
Dayton faces another tough test in its next game Dec. 16. No. 122 Tulsa (7-3) has defeated No. 64 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Kansas State in its last two games.
“They’re going to be pretty good,” Mikesell said. “We’re going to take each game one at a time, try to win and improve and hopefully that sets us up going into the conference.”