Dayton Flyers meet Alabama program on the rise

Crimson Tide hope to avenge loss at UD last season


TUESDAY’S GAME

Dayton at Alabama, 1:15 p.m., ESPN2, AM 1290, 95.7 WHIO

Alabama will always be a football school. No one’s disputing that. It is the favorite to repeat as College Football Playoff champion. Fans pose for selfies with the Nick Saban statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium even if it isn’t a game day.

However, in their second game of the season at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, the Dayton Flyers meet a basketball program on the rise in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Both teams opened the season Friday with double-digit victories.

“I know they’re going to be better this time around,” Dayton senior Charles Cooke said. “We played them at home (last year). We’re going to bring the heat. That’s all I know. We’re going to play hard.”

>>>VIDEO: Dayton vs. Austin Peay highlights

Dayton routed Alabama 80-48 in the second game last season. Like this game, that was a Tuesday afternoon game in the ESPN Tipoff Marathon. This is not the same Alabama team — it lost three key scorers — but it’s a program building for a strong future if you consider these three points:

• The Crimson Tide have a brand-name coach in Avery Johnson, the NBA Coach of the Year in 2006 with the Dallas Mavericks.

• Their 2017 recruiting class is the best in school history, ranking No. 2 in the country according to Scout.com and Rivals.com.

• Alabama ranked 22nd in the country in average attendance last season (13,110), three spots ahead of Dayton (12,941). The previous season Alabama ranked 40th (10,177).

>>> PREVIEW: Dayton at Alabama

Johnson has made major strides in 19 months on the job. He lost his second game as head coach a year ago to the Flyers but guided the team to an 18-15 finish and an NIT berth.

“This year we’ve been trying to lay a foundation for the years to come,” Johnson said during the SEC tournament last March. “We’ve had to change the culture inside and out. We haven’t been in this program five, six, seven, eight years. It’s only the first year. In a lot of ways, some of the things we’ve done this year with a lot of our top-25 wins, I expected that to happen next year. So a little bit ahead of schedule.”

Archie Miller knows about being ahead of schedule. He reached the Elite Eight in his third season. Miller’s Flyers have made a name for themselves with success against teams like Alabama. They are 30-12 against the five power conferences in the last nine years.

A victory Tuesday and another one Saturday in a home game against No. 17 St. Mary's would likely push Dayton into the top 25. They're one spot out of the poll this week. Of course, winning a road game at Alabama four days after the opener won't be easy.

“We had the same turnaround a year ago,” Miller said Friday. “You play on a Friday night. You’ve got three days before you play. We’ll be working tomorrow. We’ll be working Sunday and Monday. It’s a quick turnaround. The biggest deal going down there for our team is going to be our approach, our mentality, our physical and mental toughness on the road against a team that quite frankly has probably been waiting on us for a long time. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody. We’ll be ready. I think our guys are excited to play. We have one heck of a non-conference schedule, so every game we play from this point is going to feel the same.”

Alabama hopes for a big crowd. It’s luring students with the offer of free pizza and T-shirts to the first 1,200 who show up.

The Crimson Tide beat Coastal Carolina 70-53 in their opener Friday but trailed 33-27 at halftime. They took the lead for good with 16:34 left in the second half.

Dayton is less concerned about Alabama entering this game than itself. Dayton's biggest star, Cooke, dominated the season opener with 31 points in a 96-68 victory over Austin Peay. Others contributed as well, allowing the starters to get some rest in the second half, and that's the way it has to be for UD.

“We want to play a lot of guys,” Miller said. “We have to play a lot of guys. Guys have to get out there and make the plays they’re making in practice. The deeper we are, the better we are. It’s always good if you can keep the heaviest-minute guys in between 28 and 32. If you’re able to play eight, nine, 10 guys, that’s what we have to do. I don’t envision holding guys back when you’re in the biggest of moments, but it was good to get some guys rest.”

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