Dayton makes rapid progress during four-game winning streak

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Toumani Camara interview: Dec. 1, 2021

Flyers showing improvement in 3-point shooting, defense, etc., entering game against Northern Illinois

Freshman forward DaRon Holmes II summed up the feelings of the Dayton Flyers and the Flyer Faithful on Wednesday.

“It’s great seeing the progress our team is making as time goes by!” Holmes wrote on Twitter before the team’s 93-54 victory against Alabama State. “I just know we have something special within us. I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

Dayton (5-3) won its fourth game in seven days and took another step toward burying three straight home losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay — three defeats that will haunt the team all season unless it can continue on its current path — with its most dominant performance of the season.

Entering the ninth of 13 non-conference games, at 2 p.m. Saturday against Northern Illinois at UD Arena, Dayton’s season can be divided into two parts: the 1-3 segment in which the sky was falling over UD Arena and the 4-0 segment in which Dayton won a tournament for the first time in 10 years and then continued the resurgence at home.

“I felt like we needed those three losses to realize who we really are and what we need to work on,” forward Toumani Camara said. “No matter who we lost to, I think it was a great experience. The only thing we can do now is just get better and better every day and not go back to that.”

Here’s how the two pieces of the season compare in three ways:

Then

Dayton couldn’t shoot: The Flyers survived a 2-of-14 shooting performance (14.3 percent) from 3-point range and beat Illinois-Chicago 64-54 in their season opener Nov. 9. They were not as fortunate in the next three games, making 7 of 23 (30.4) against Lowell, 6 of 21 against Lipscomb (28.6) and 3 of 21 (14.3) against Austin Peay.

Now

Dayton is making shots: The Flyers struggled from behind the arc in their upset of Kansas (5 of 17, 29.4) but made 11 of 19 3-pointers against Miami (57.9), 7 of 18 against Belmont (38.9) and 10 of 21 against Alabama State (47.6).

Elijah Weaver (12 of 28, 42.9 percent) has been Dayton’s best 3-point shooter. Koby Brea (12 of 36), Mustapha Amzil (10 of 30) and Kobe Elvis (6 of 18) are all shooting 33 percent, which is the national average.

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Dayton Flyers highlights: Malachi Smith in ESPN Events Invitational in November 2021

Then

Malachi Smith was a role player: The freshman point guard played nine minutes in the opener, then 25, 31 and 17 minutes. He earned a starting job in the fourth game of the season. He averaged 6.3 points and 2.5 assists in the four games.

Now

Smith is running the team: He has played 32, 34, 34 and 26 minutes in the last four games and only saw his minutes fall Wednesday because Dayton was winning big. He was named MVP of the ESPN Events Invitational after a 63-61 victory against Belmont on Sunday. In the last four games, he’s averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 assists.

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Dayton's Toumani Camara blocks a shot against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton's Toumani Camara blocks a shot against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

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Dayton's Toumani Camara blocks a shot against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Then

The defense was making stars of its opponents: In the first four games, the opponents found a star to lead them each time. Zion Griffin made 5 of 8 3-pointers and led Illinois-Chicago with 17 points. That remains his best performance of the season.

Lowell’s Justin Faison made 5 of 11 3-pointers and scored 21 points. In six games since playing Dayton, he hasn’t scored more than 10 points.

Lipscomb big man Ahsan Asadullah bullied Dayton in the paint and scored 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He scored 12 points in the team’s next game.

Austin Peay’s star was Elijah Hutchins-Everett, who had 25 points and made 13 of 16 free throws. He has scored a total of 16 points in the team’s last two games.

Now

The defense is limiting the opponents’ top players: Miami’s top scorer, Isaiah Wong, had 10 points against Dayton. Kansas star Ochai Agbaji, the nation’s leading scorer entering the Dayton game, scored 21 points against the Flyers. It was his second lowest total of the season.

Belmont center Nick Muszynski had success (23 points on 10-of-16 shooting), but produced his second lowest offensive rating of the season, according to KenPom.com. No one from Alabama State scored more than 10 points against Dayton.

In summary, Dayton has made rapid progress to put the opening four-game stretch in the past.

“These guys put a lot of work in,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “It’s important to them. Nobody was happy obviously with the way we started the season. We had a difficult start, but I thought we figured some things out and we’re still figuring some things out. We’re eight games into it right now. We’ve still got a ways to go as a group. These guys are 100 percent committed to trying to become the best version of themselves. We are pleased with the progress, but I think we haven’t come close to the ceiling. I think this team’s got a really high ceiling.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Northern Illinois at Dayton, 2 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 1290, 95.7

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Anthony Grant press conference: Dec. 1, 2021

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