A lot can change in a year. A lot can change in four days.
Fifty weeks after losing by 25 to Rhode Island at the Ryan Center, the Dayton Flyers won by 29, dominating the defending Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season champions on Saturday. Four days after falling behind by 20 in the first half at Saint Louis, the Flyers led by 20 in the first half against the Rams.
» TWENTY PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Rhode Island
It’s hard to explain. The randomness of college basketball certainly played a factor. There’s no doubt the disappointment motivated Dayton, just as it motivated Saint Louis, which had lost four straight games, earlier in the week.
“We just had to come back and gain focus,” Dayton forward Josh Cunningham said. “We went to Saint Louis aand were kind of not ourselves. Over the few practices we had before this game, I felt we were very locked in. We came in with the mindset that we’re not going to let them out-tough us just because they kind of play the same way Saint Louis did.”
Dayton (16-8, 8-3) entered its off week alone in second place with the opportunity to play the two teams ahead of it in the standings, Davidson and Virginia Commonwealth (both 17-6, 8-2) in their next two games. Here are five reasons they beat Rhode Island:
1. The shots fell: Dayton opened its last two games against Duquesne and Saint Louis 0-for-9 and 0-for-10 from 3-point range. It missed its first attempt in this game but then made its next three during a 27-7 run in the first 11 minutes. It finished 6 of 12 from 3-point range.
» MORE ON GAME: Grant says Dayton executed at a high level
Dayton led 41-27 at halftime after trailing at halftime by a total of 20 points in its last two games.
Dayton point guard Jalen Crutcher said Grant’s message to the team in practice after the Saint Louis loss was, “We’ve got to stop waiting on what they’re going to do. We’ve got to come out and be ourselves.”
2. The point guard excelled: With 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, Crutcher matched his season high. He added four assists.
“I thought he really controlled the game,” Grant said. “I thought he did a great job of being able to attack their pressure and create opportunities for himself either through scoring or finding his teammates. We did a good job moving the ball, sharing it and making good decisions in terms of our shot selection. Jalen, I thought, was the catalyst for that.”
3. The forwards dominated: Obi Toppin made 8 of 10 shots from the field and scored 19. Josh Cunningham added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
The big men were a big reason Dayton shot 63.3 percent (31 of 49) from the field. That’s its second-best shooting performance of the season. It shot 68.5 percent against Detroit. Rhode Island had not allowed an opponent to shoot better than 52.9 percent against it this season.
Rhode Island coach David Cox called it an embarrassing loss for his team on its home court.
“I want to apologize to our fans who came out to support us today,” Cox said. “What a tremendous atmosphere. Obviously, they showed up, and we didn’t. I give credit to Anthony Grant and the Dayton basketball program for coming in here and playing a high-level game today.”
4. The defense worked: Crutcher said the game plan was to focus on Rhode Island’s leading scorer, Jeff Dowtin, and its top big man, Cyril Langevine.
Dayton held Dowtin to seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. He had scored in double figures in every game this season. Langevine scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
Rhode Island’s shooting struggles continued. It made 3 of 19 3-pointers. It fell into a tie for last place in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (25.8). Cox saw the offensive frustration affect his team on the defensive end.
“We were bad on offense, obviously, and poor on defense with regard to 1-on-1 defense for the most part,” he said. “Everything kind of steamrolled today.”
5. The comeback stalled: Dayton’s 20-point lead shrunk to 14 at halftime. The Rams closed the gap to 12 points early in the second half but got no closer. The Flyers led by 20 or more points for the last six minutes and were content to milk the clock in the final four minutes.
“Basketball is always going to be a game of runs,” Grant said, “and a 14-point lead at the half on the road, that’s not a comfortable lead in my opinion. The intensity, the urgency needed to be there. They had a run, and we were able to answer that run and then have a run of our own that gave us a comfortable lead there.”