Dayton sets tone with defense in victory against Saint Louis

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Dayton Flyers highlights: Second-half run vs. Saint Louis on Jan. 11, 2022

Flyers have won two straight for first time since five-game winning streak early in season

Six days earlier, Anthony Grant had questioned his team’s effort in a 53-52 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in a postgame press conference.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” Grant said. “Guys are more interested in ‘I want to play,’ rather than ‘I want to compete. I want to win.’”

Three days earlier, after an 83-58 victory at George Washington, Grant said he wasn’t calling his guys out as much as calling them up. Whatever he was trying to do seems to have worked. Dayton beat Saint Louis 68-63 — a score that made the game seem closer than it was — on Wednesday at UD Arena and pointed their season back in the right direction.

While it’s too early to mark Grant’s comments as a turning point, it would make a fine story in March if it turns out that way. The players heard his comments. They heard even more of them behind the scenes.

“He called everybody out,” guard Kobe Elvis said Wednesday. “A lot of us got called out in practice, and we wanted to make a statement the last two games.”

“That’s something he’s supposed to do after a game like that,” forward Mustapha Amzil said. “AG was mad. Obviously, every player was mad. We had to pick it up, and this is the result. We have been playing better.”

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Dayton (10-6, 2-1) handed Saint Louis (10-5, 1-1) its first loss by beating the Billikens for the fifth straight time and 14th time in the last 18 games over the last eight seasons. One fifth of the way through the A-10 season, the Flyers trail only VCU and Davidson (both 3-0 in the league) in the win column.

Here are five ways Dayton won this game:

1. Strong defense: DaRon Holmes II blocked five shots, giving him 41 on the season and bring him closer to Steve McElvene’s school record of 55 set by six years ago.

While Saint Louis shot better from 3-point range (9 of 16, 56.3 percent) than it has all season, inside the arc, it shot 36.1 percent (13 of 36), its second-worst percentage of the season, in part because of the job Holmes, Toumani Camara and others did.

“Tonight, our guys did a great job of setting the tone right from the beginning,” Grant said. “I thought defensively we were locked in in terms of what we needed to do. Watching Saint Louis play, I was really, really impressed with their team. I think they’ve got a really good group and come at you in a lot of different ways. They’re really good in transition. On the half court, they’ve got a lot of different weapons, and then defensively, they can cause havoc with the way they defend. So I thought our guys understood the scouting report and were able to go out and do the things that we needed to do to get the win.”

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Dayton played a part in Saint Louis guard Yuri Collins, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season, having his worst offensive game of the season. He matched his season low with four points while committing seven turnovers, one off his season high. He did have nine assists. He entered the game ranked second in the country in assists per game (7.6).

Jordan Nesbitt, another double-figure scorer for the Billikens, finished with five points.

“It’s just going to be tough for us when certain guys don’t play well to be successful,” Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. “A lot of guys didn’t play well individually. We just weren’t in sync, and give Dayton credit. Our offense is what killed us. Our offense killed our defense. We had a lot of one-on-one play, a lot of broken plays, a lot of bad shots. There was no rhythm, no flow to our offense. None.”

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Anthony Grant interview: Jan. 11, 2022

3. Improved turnover numbers: Dayton scored 17 points off 15 Saint Louis turnovers.

Malachi Smith and R.J. Blakney scored the last two baskets of the first half on fast breaks after Saint Louis turnovers as the Flyers took a 36-26 halftime lead. A steal by Mustapha Amzil led to a fast-break dunk by Holmes II with 8:17 left in the second half as Dayton extended its lead to 57-42 with a 9-0 run in 96 seconds.

“They were pressing us,” said Saint Louis guard Gibson Jimerson, who led all scorers 23 points, “and we’d get in halfcourt and by then there would be 20 seconds on the clock and we’d be scrambling around. It was loud in here, so sometimes we had trouble hearing what we were running. For some guys, it might have been first-time jitters a little bit.”

Dayton also limited its own turnovers, committing 12 and ended a streak of five games in which it had at least 15 turnovers.

“After every game, we look at what’s hurting us, and turnovers have always been big,” Elvis said. “I think most games we have 15 to 20, so this game was really good for us.”

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Kobe Elvis interview: Jan. 11, 2022

2. Strong shooting: Dayton made 7 of 16 3-pointers. It has made 15 of 32 in the last two games after making 8 of 32 in the two games before that against Southern and VCU. The Flyers have won their last seven games when they shoot better than 30 percent.

Kobe Elvis and Amzil each made two. Blakney, Koby Brea and Smith made one 3-pointer each. Elvis and Smith led Dayton with 14 points each.

“We never come into a game expecting to not shoot the ball well,” Elvis said. “We also do really well when we get to the rim. We try to play inside out. So when we play inside out, we do really well.”

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Mustapha Amzil interview: Jan. 11, 2022

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