Fans of the Dayton Flyers have often floated a theory about their team struggling on the road because it’s used to the excitement the large crowds bring to UD Arena and doesn’t always get the same experience elsewhere.
There has been some truth to that over the years. The Flyers never play well at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena, for instance. Until a 72-48 victory Tuesday, they had not won a regular-season game against Massachusetts at the Mullins Center since 2004. They tipped off the latest game in Amherst in front of an announced crowd of 2,478 — though there were obviously many fewer fans in the seats — and it’s a sign of this team’s growth that it played one of its best halves despite the lack of atmosphere.
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Dayton led 40-18 at halftime after making 14 of 17 field goals.
“When we go on the road, we try to come out with a lot of energy,” said Dayton forward Obi Toppin, who had eight of his 19 points in the first half.
The small crowd was not a surprise. UMass (10-18, 3-12) hasn’t give its fans much reason to attend games. Matt McCall finds his team fighting to avoid a last-place finish in the Atlantic 10 Conference in his second season. Injuries have hurt — the Minutemen were without five players against Dayton — but the problems go deeper.
“It’s February 26 and there’s a guy late for shoot-around,” McCall said. “On Feb. 26, in the middle of a grind, we’re battling. We’re fighting for every single day, every single game, every single possession. You can’t get to a 2 o’clock shoot-around on time? How can we expect to go out there and play and compete and focus and do our job? I’m calling plays that we’ve run since July, and we forget the action. That’s a lack of focus, just like shoot around. If I can’t be on time to shoot-around, am I really into the game? Am I really focused on an opportunity to compete?”
Defensive success: Dayton held UMass guard Carl Pierre, who averaged 20.6 points in the previous five games, to seven points on 2-of-12 shooting. The Minutemen made 2 of 14 3-pointers. It was their worst effort from behind the arc this season.
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“I thought Jalen (Crutcher) started on him,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We had different guys on him. There’s a level of pride to take away the 3-point line.”
Versatile scorer: Toppin made his only 3-point attempt. He has made 7 of 13 this season. Grant is not opposed to his big men shooting from long range.
“I think the one he took today was in rhythm,” Grant said. “I think for the most part he’s taken really good 3s. Same with Josh (Cunningham). You look at the numbers, I think both of them are above 40 percent at the 3-point line because they’re taking good ones. It’s not the volume necessarily — but as long as they’re getting in rhythm. They work on it. That’s part of what we do with our development, so I’m good with that.”
Looking ahead: Dayton plays Rhode Island (13-14, 6-9) at 7 p.m. Friday at UD Arena. The Flyers won the first matchup 77-48 on Feb. 9 in Kingston, R.I.
The 10th-place Rams beat George Washington 80-53 on Tuesday to stop a five-game losing streak. The Colonials (8-20, 4-11) remain in 12th place.
Around the A-10: First-place Virginia Commonwealth (22-6, 13-2) won its ninth straight game Tuesday, 71-65 against Saint Louis in Richmond, Va. The Rams extended their lead over Davidson (20-7, 11-3), which plays at La Salle on Wednesday, to 1½ games.
VCU received votes in the Associated Press top-25 poll for the first time this week and continues to improve its NCAA tournament resume. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi listed it as a No. 10 seed in his latest bracket prediction.