A number of Dayton Flyers players headed to the beach Friday afternoon after their final game in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They deserved a couple hours of real vacation after playing three games in three days at Imperial Gym against three of the top-50 teams in the country.
Dayton finished 1-2 in the tournament, losing 65-54 to Oklahoma in the third-place game. Considering the quality of the competition, the Flyers might benefit more from this 1-2 finish than many of its 2-1 performances in these tournaments over the years.
That’s the attitude Dayton coach Anthony Grant had after the final game. His team flew home Saturday with a 4-2 record.
“I like our team,” Grant said. “I think we’re disappointed in not being able to get the win today, but I think overall when you look at the three games we played, the competition we played against, we put ourselves in a position every night to have a chance to win. We’ll try to go back and reflect on the things we can do better as a team and try to reflect on the things we did well and that we need to build on. We’ll certainly take advantage of this experience.”
Here are seven takeaways from Dayton’s play in the Battle 4 Atlantis:
1. Improved resume: Dayton moved from No. 103 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings to No. 91 after beating Butler 69-64 in the first round Wednesday. It jumped to No. 81 after a 66-59 loss to Virginia on Thursday and dropped to No. 98 after falling to Oklahoma.
After the tournament, Butler ranks 29th. Virginia is No. 3. Oklahoma is No. 42. At the moment, Butler is Dayton’s best victory since it beat No. 23 Iowa in the Advocare Invitational in 2015, though the Pomeroy rankings change every day.
2. Opportunities ahead: This tournament wasn’t the end of Dayton’s tough road. It plays Mississippi State at 7 p.m. Friday at UD Arena and travels to Auburn on Dec. 8. Those teams rank 25th and ninth, respectively in the Pomeroy ratings. A home game against Detroit on Dec. 4 falls in the middle.
In short, if Dayton can beat Mississippi State or Auburn and survive the rest of its non-conference schedule without a loss — No. 131 Tulsa and No. 130 Georgia Southern being the biggest remaining hurdles — it has the beginnings of a NCAA tournament resume. Of course, it will still have to post a strong record in the Atlantic 10 conference to be considered for an at-large bid.
3. Gaining respect: Dayton lost by the same margin to Virginia as Wisconsin did in the championship game. The No. 25 Badgers fell 53-46 on Friday.
In a number of ways, though, the Flyers were more competitive. They never trailed Virginia by more than nine points, whereas Wisconsin trailed 33-18 at halftime. Dayton shot 54.3 percent from the field. Wisconsin shot 43.8.
The Flyers raised the bar on what the fans expect this season by hanging with a national power for 40 minutes and did the same thing Friday by rallying from a 14-point deficit against Oklahoma to take a seven-point lead in the second half.
A year ago, Dayton may have faded after falling behind by a double-digit margin. That happened in blowout losses at St. Joseph’s, George Mason, Rhode Island and La Salle. This team still has to prove itself in true road games, but it’s a good sign it didn’t suffer the same fate against Oklahoma.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement over these three games,” Dayton forward Josh Cunningham said.
4. Trouble spot: Dayton made 21 of 27 free throws in a season-opening 78-70 victory against North Florida. It has failed to top 70 percent in the last five games and shot 60.8 percent (28 of 46) in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Cunningham (10 of 20, 50 percent) and Jalen Crutcher (12 of 21, 57.1 percent) have got to the line the most and struggled more than their teammates. Cunningham shot 69.1 percent at the line last season, and Crutcher shot 68.1 percent.
5. Showing improvement: Dayton’s 3-point defense, a weakness last season, held its opponents in the Bahamas to 32.8 percent shooting. Butler, Virginia and Oklahoma combine to shoot 38 percent from 3-point range.
6. Emerging star: Obi Toppin showed the inconsistency of a redshirt freshman who has played only six games in his college career during the Bahamas tournament, but he has done enough this season to make everyone excited about his future. He’s averaging 11.5 points and and 3.7 rebounds and shooting 68.2 percent from 2-point range.
Toppin showed his versatility against Virginia, scoring on dunks, off the dribble and with jump shots. He made 6 of 7 shots from the field and scored 13 points. He had 11 points in the other two games.
Toppin made his first career 3-pointer Friday.
“Finally,” he said.
7. Exciting player: Crutcher added a number of plays to his highlight reel through the three games. He has increased his scoring from 9.7 points per game as a freshman to 13.2 and his assists average from 4.4 to 5.7. His 3-point shooting has also improved from 33.8 to 39.4.
Crutcher scored a season-high 20 points against Butler.
“He did everything,” Cunningham said. “He did what a point guard does night in and night out.”