The Dayton Flyers, who have the youngest roster in the country, proved Tuesday they should be counted among the top contenders for the Atlantic 10 Conference championship. They played with joy and energy Tuesday in a 68-50 victory at UD Arena against preseason favorite and defending A-10 champion St. Bonaventure, a team with four 23-year-olds and one 22-year-old in its starting lineup.
Dayton freshman forward DaRon Holmes II spent most of the night with a big grin on his face, whether he was dunking (five times), blocking shots (three times) or even assisting his fellow freshman phenom, Malachi Smith, who might lead the country in smiles, on a layup.
“It was a lot of fun,” Holmes II said.
The Flyers (12-6, 4-1), who now sit alone in second place behind Davidson (15-2, 5-0), embraced the youth vs. experience storyline. They knew the Bonnies (10-4, 2-1) expected to win because of their veteran edge. St. Bonaventure ranks 18th in the country in experience, according to KenPom.com, while Dayton ranks 358th, or last.
“They thought just because they were older than us and have more experience they could just come in and maybe get an easy win” Dayton guard Koby Brea said. “But that’s not what we’re about. We work hard. We’re coming for everybody.”
Dayton has one player in his fourth year of college basketball (Elijah Weaver). Dayton started two true freshmen, two second-year guards who are considered freshmen because last season didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility and a third-year forward against St. Bonaventure’s four seniors and a fifth-year senior.
“Sometimes experience isn’t always the best thing,” Holmes II said, “and I think we took advantage of them in that way. We came out with a lot of heart and passion, and we just took control of the game from the start.”
Dayton didn’t take control quite at the start. It trailed 19-14 halfway through the first half, though that deficit was forgotten quickly thanks to a 16-2 run, a 35-23 halftime lead and a dominant effort in the second half. The Bonnies trailed by double digits for the last 14 minutes.
Here are five ways Dayton earned its fourth victory in a row and beat the Bonnies for the seventh straight time:
1. Big night for the big man: Holmes II scored a career-high 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting three days after scoring a career-high 18 points in a 72-52 victory at Duquesne. He also had three blocks and now has 45 this season, leaving him 10 short of tying Steve McElvene’s school record.
“It’s crazy because on the court he’s fearless and people fear him, but off the court, he’s such a great human being,” Brea said. “He’s an amazing kid, man, and we all expect a lot from him every night. I know with time he’s going to keep getting better and better.”
2. Great night for the Bronx: Dayton’s two guards from New York City, Malachi Smith and Brea, also reached career highs in different categories.
Smith had 12 assists, one more than his season best and three short of the school record.
Brea scored a career-high 20 points by making 6 of 7 3-pointers. He hit his previous best (13 points) against Austin Peay on Nov. 20. This was fourth time this season he has scored in double figures. He did not score more than eight last season as a freshman. Brea’s now averaging 6.9 points per game.
Brea topped his previous career high (13 points against Austin Peay on Nov. 20) by seven points and scored in double figures for the fourth time this season and fourth time in his career.
After this performance, Brea’s scoring average jumped from 6.1 to 6.9 points per game. He leads the team in made 3-pointers (29 of 73, 39.7 percent).
“He could do that anytime easily,” Holmes II said. “He’s a sharp shooter. He can shoot lights out. In practice, he does it all the time. You guys saw it in the game today. He’s going to do it in the future. He’s a great player. He’s tough.”
3. Solid night for the other Kobe: Kobe Elvis has become a more consistent scoring threat in recent weeks. He scored 14 points and made 4 of 6 3-pointers against the Bonnies after making 4 of 4 against the Dukes and scoring 16 points. He has scored in double figures three games in a row after doing that five times in the first 14 games.
4. Hot night for the Flyers: Dayton made 10 of 18 3-pointers (55.6 percent), continuing a run of success from long range that started after the 53-52 loss to Virginia Commonwealth on Jan. 5. Dayton made 3 of 15 3-pointers in that game. It has made at least seven 3-pointers in the last four games against George Washington, Saint Louis, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure and shot better than 43 percent in each game.
Elvis and Brea combined to make all the 3-pointers in this game.
“When they shoot like that, they’re hard to beat,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt told PickinSplinters.com. “You have to give up something, and they played really well. They hit shots and made it difficult on us.”
5. Cold night for the Bonnies: Jalen Adaway made three 3-pointers in the first five minutes. St. Bonaventure made one 3-pointer the rest of the way, shooting 17.4 percent (4 of 23).
“Sometimes you miss shots,” Grant said. “They got some open ones. We had a couple of blown assignments where they got they got open looks. We did a really good job of making extra efforts and taking away their rhythm, trying to make it difficult for them. That was a big focus for us.”