The Dayton Flyers cut down the nets on Senior Night after clinching a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship in 2016. They did the same in 2017 after winning the title outright, beating Virginia Commonwealth on Senior Night for the second straight season.
The Flyers didn’t witness Rhode Island cutting down the nets in 2018. By the time that part of the celebration had started following Rhode Island’s 81-56 victory on Feb. 23 at the Ryan Center, they had fled to the locker room, having no desire to see the Rams rejoice in their first regular-season championship since 1981.
» GAME PREVIEW: What you need to know about UD vs. Rhody
“We need to have the internal motivation to learn from this,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said after the defeat, the most lopsided of his first season.
Dayton point guard Jalen Crutcher, who led the Flyers with 12 points but committed six turnovers, remembers one moment from that game better than any other.
“I know when I came out of the game, I told coach Grant, ‘We’re going to get them back next year,’” Crutcher said Thursday before practice, “so we’ve got to get them back this year.”
Dayton (15-8, 7-3) gets its chance at 4 p.m. Saturday against Rhode Island (12-10, 5-5) in Kingston as it reaches the halfway point of a crucial six-game stretch. Here are five things to know about the game:
1. Similar scenario: Dayton lost four senior starters and its head coach, Archie Miller, after winning the A-10 in 2017. Rhode Island faced the same situation this season with David Cox, an assistant coach under Dan Hurley the last four seasons, getting the job when Hurley left for Connecticut.
The Rams lost five of their top eight scorers but returned three solid players in Jeff Dowtin, Cyril Langevine and Fatts Russell, their three leading scorers this season. Dowtin scored a team-high 20 points against Dayton in the 81-56 victory last season.
2. Rebuilding season: Like the Flyers in the year after they won the championship, the Rams have taken a step back, though they’re two wins ahead of where Dayton was at the same point last season. Entering this game, Rhode Island sits alone in ninth place, while Dayton is tied for third.
“They’re a physical group,” Grant said. “Good guard play. It’ll be another great college basketball environment. We’ve got to be able to learn our lesson and bring our best right from the jump.”
3. Slow starts: Dayton trailed 10-0 and scored four points in the first eight minutes Tuesday in a 73-60 loss at Saint Louis. Rhode Island missed its first 10 shots and trailed 11-1 Wednesday in a 68-51 loss at Davidson.
4. Poor shooting: Dayton has made 26 of 96 (27.1 percent) 3-pointers in its last five games and started 0-of-9 and 0-of-10 in its last two games. Rhode Island made 3 of 24 3-pointers (12.5 percent) against Davidson and is the third-worst 3-point shooting team in the country (26.3 percent).
“I think what happened tonight was because we didn’t see that ball go in enough, we got a little bit frustrated,” Cox told the Providence Journal. “We started to settle a little bit. Then there were some cracks in the defense.”
5. New lineup: Obi Toppin made his first start since early in the season Tuesday for Dayton, though the Flyers were outscored 8-0 in the opening minutes with him on the floor.
Asked Thursday if he would stick with that lineup, Grant said, “We’ll see what happens. I can’t predict the future, but as of right now, that’s what we have.”