The familiar "We are UD!" chant echoed around Imperial Gym in the final minutes Wednesday as the Dayton Flyers put the finishing touches on a 69-64 victory against Butler.
Dayton fans always travel well to these exempt tournaments, and they packed the arena like no other team on the first day of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan was told by a tournament official his school will have one of the bigger turnouts in the eight-year history of the event, though the exact number of Flyer fans here is not known because many fans bought their tickets on the day of the game.
For the first time since the Advocare Invitational in 2015, the Flyers (4-0) rewarded their loyal fanbase with a first-round victory, and this might be the most important non-conference win since that defeat of Iowa in Orlando three years ago. It is easily the biggest non-conference victory, if not the biggest victory period, in coach Anthony Grant’s two seasons.
The Flyers, led by Jalen Crutcher’s 20 points and Josh Cunningham’s 18, never trailed and led by as many as 15 points in the second half.
“It just sets the tone for us,” junior guard Trey Landers said. “Like I say all the time, we do what we do. We focus on what we do. We were doubted coming into this game. We knew that. But at the end of the day, it’s about what we’ve got going on here. I trust my teammates. I love each one of my teammates. I know we have confidence in each other. I wasn’t worried about us being nervous or us not being poised. Jalen and Josh dominated the game tonight. Big ups to them. I feel we were ready for this.”
Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s first regular-season game in a foreign nation, its first victory over Butler since 1991 and its fourth victory in a row to start the 2018-19 season:
1. Best defense: Dayton played its most complete defensive game of the season and maybe of the last two seasons considering the quality of the opponent. The Bulldogs (3-1) shot 40 percent from the field after shooting 53.0 percent in victories over Miami, Detroit and Mississippi.
Butler’s top player, Kamar Baldwin, scored 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Paul Jorgenson, Butler’s second-leading scorer, tallied 18 points, making 7 of 17 shots.
“I think the guys did a great job following the scouting report,” Grant said. “Obviously, Baldwin is a heck of a player, and we knew that he was going to be aggressive. I thought we had a variety of different guys that defended him. Our team did a great job of having awareness. Our bigs did a great job at pick-and-roll coverage in terms of being where they needed to be to kind of take away some of the opportunities. (Jorgenson) had to earn what he got, and that’s what we wanted to make him do.”
2. Holding on: Dayton outscored Butler 7-0 in the final four minutes of the first half to take a 37-26 halftime lead and pushed the lead into double digits early in the second half. Twice in the last 10 minutes, the Flyers led by as many as 15 points.
Butler got as close as 63-58 in the final minute as it turned up the pressure, forcing four turnovers in the final four minutes. A dunk by Cunningham off an assist by Jordan Davis with 38 seconds to play sealed the victory.
“We knew that they were going to try different things in terms of their desire to get back in the game,” Grant said. “They came with pressure, and we expected that pressure to come a little bit. I thought we handled it at times, and other times we didn’t handle it and they were able to get some easy baskets that made it a lot closer than we would have liked at the end. I told our guys after the game, those are learning opportunities for us. We’ve got a relatively young team — with one senior, with Josh — that needs to go through those experiences. You have to go through that in order to be able to learn from it and grow from it.”
3. Opposing viewpoint: Butler still leads the all-time series against Dayton 13-11. Its six-game winning streak in the series ended.
Butler coach LaVall Jordan, like Grant a second-year coach working at his alma mater, said Dayton played like an experienced team and had better poise at the start of the game. The Flyers led 13-4 only to have Butler tie the game at 15-15.
“I just thought that they were really physical, all the way around,” Jordan said. “Their physicality was something that we didn’t match early enough. I think that in the second half, our guys responded, especially from about the midpoint on. Then we got to the foul line. Now, we didn’t convert as much as we would like. But early on it was just the physicality of it.”
4. Clutch play: Crutcher made 6 of 8 field goals and 3 of 4 3-pointers. He struggled at the free-throw line (5 of 10) as most players from both teams did. However, he made a number of big plays down the stretch to keep the Flyers in front.
“(The victory) says a lot about this team,” Crutcher said. “A lot of people doubted us and thought we would come in and lose. I know we surprised a lot of people.”
5. Moving ahead: The Flyers will play Virginia, which beat Middle Tennessee State 74-52, in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Thursday. Wisconsin plays Oklahoma in the other semifinal at 1:30 p.m.
Virginia leads the all-time series against Dayton 2-0. Both games took place in 1987, the first in Anthony Grant’s final season as a player in 1986-87 and the second in the 1987-88 season.
“This will be a quick turnaround,” Grant said. “It’s not like we have a whole lot of time to think about this one. Like I told the guys, we’ve got about five minutes, and then we’ve got to flush it and be ready to go back tomorrow for a different opponent and a different challenge.”