Dayton, Rhode Island both in need of a victory in first game between Miller, Grant

UD plays its former coach for first time Wednesday on road

Anthony Grant had a tall task when he took over the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball program on March 30, 2017. His predecessor, Archie Miller, had taken the team to the NCAA tournament the four previous seasons, something no previous UD coach had accomplished.

As a 1987 UD alum, Grant enjoyed watching that success from afar.

“I sit back and always try to watch what’s going on with UD, if I can catch pieces of games or just watch the score,” Grant said at his introductory press conference. “I’ve been extremely proud of what this program has been able to accomplish. I want to also congratulate coach Miller and his staff for doing an outstanding job here. I told the players when we met I’m extremely proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

Six years later, having earned one NCAA tournament berth in five seasons but in a year in which the tournament wasn’t played, Grant knows even better how hard it is to do what Miller did from 2014-17. Miller himself has learned the same lesson. A failure to get Indiana to the NCAA tournament in four seasons cost him his job in 2021. Now after a year away from coaching he’s back in the Atlantic 10 Conference, rebuilding at Rhode Island, where success has been hard to find in his first season.

Both Grant and Miller could use a victory when they face each other as head coaches for the first time at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I.

On Saturday, after a 76-69 loss at George Washington, a game between the last two Dayton coaches was the least of Grant’s concerns, but he again talked about his pride in Miller’s success during his time at Dayton.

“As an alum, I’m really appreciative of the job he did,” Grant said. “Hopefully, he can build that program. When Rhode Island’s good, the league is good. He’s got that type of job. I know it’s his first year. He’s certainly been more than hospitable when I’ve been around him. I know it’ll be the guys on the court playing each other, but I get the storyline.”

Miller spoke at length about his time at Dayton in a press conference in Rhode Island on Monday.

“I’m on a different stage from what I was (at Dayton),” Miller said. “I’m far removed. My time there has been well documented. We had a great run. And it’s a credit to the university, the administration, the fans and the players that played there at the time that I was there. It wasn’t me. There was a total commitment, and there still is a total commitment there, which is why their program is so successful.

“My time there, obviously I’m very grateful, I’m humbled. I was given an opportunity at 32 years old, and I don’t take that lightly. It changed my family and myself’s life really to be given that opportunity. A lot went into creating a culture of winning there. It’s something that I aspire to do here. I feel like we have the same commitment level, and I think we have the same opportunity to build a great program here as well.

“My time at Dayton seems like a lifetime ago. Anthony (Grant) has been a fantastic coach. They have a championship pedigree now. Everything about what they’re doing is done in a very similar way in terms of their commitment level, their administration, their fans. They have a fantastic program. They always will.’

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Dayton (13-7, 5-2), the A-10 preseason favorite, has lost two of its last three games and sits alone in third place. It trails Virginia Commonwealth (15-5, 6-1) and Saint Louis (14-6, 6-1).

Rhode Island (6-13, 2-5) was picked to finish ninth after placing 11th in the final season of the David Cox era. With 11 games remaining, it’s tied for 12th place with two other programs who have first-year coaches: Davidson (9-10, 2-5) and Massachusetts (11-8, 2-5).

A-10 newcomer Loyola Chicago is all alone in 15th place, though it picked up its first league victory Saturday, beating St. Bonaventure 67-55.

Rhode Island lost five of its top eight scorers from last season and has struggled throughout Miller’s first season. ln non-conference play, it suffered three losses to teams ranked below 200 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings: Texas State; Brown; and Georgia State.

In A-10 play, it owns victories at home against Fordham and Duquesne but is 0-3 on the road. The Rams are one of the worst-shooting teams in the country, ranking 323rd in 3-point field-goal percentage (30.2) and 341st in 2-point field-goal percentage (44.1).

Miller was never shy about telling truths about his team during his days at Dayton. He has not changed. His team fell behind 8-0 and then 41-26 at halftime and could not escape that hole in a 79-72 loss at home to George Mason.

“My concern isn’t anything related to our play,” Miller said. “It’s like we weren’t ready today. That hurts because I think the big thing with this group is continuing to have them ready — keep preparing, keep playing hard. I didn’t see it coming, but I missed something.”

WEDNESDAY’S GAME

Dayton at Rhode Island, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290, 95.7

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