Dayton takes a step back with first loss to Duquesne since 2017

Dayton huddles during a game against Rhode Island on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Dayton huddles during a game against Rhode Island on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Flyers make it final score look respectable with late run but were never in game

The Dayton Flyers proved their performance Jan. 23 at Virginia Commonwealth was not a fluke. They had played well in victories against Saint Louis and Rhode Island since that 66-63 loss but took a step back with a defeat Tuesday, this time against a team they beat 72-63 earlier this season.

Duquesne opened the renovated UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, formerly known as the A.J. Palumbo Center, with a 69-64 victory against Dayton, ending a six-game losing streak in the series. The Dukes hadn’t beaten Dayton since coach Anthony Grant’s first game in the Atlantic 10 Conference on Dec. 30, 2017.

“We just didn’t come out with fight like they did,” Dayton guard Jalen Crutcher said. “Coach Grant told us before the game that they were going to come out with energy because it’s a new arena and they have fans in here and a mini student section here. We knew it was going to be a fight from the beginning to the end of the game. We just didn’t bring it in the first half.”

The Flyers trailed for all 40 minutes. There were no ties after Duquesne made its first shot to take a 3-0 lead. The deficit grew to 15-3 at the 15:42 mark as the Dukes made their first six shots.

Dayton trailed by as many as 20 points in the first half and by as many as 22 midway through the second half before making a 20-7 run in the final five minutes to make the final score more respectable.

“I thought their energy was better than ours to start the game,” Grant said. “We knew coming in that this would be a grand opening for the arena. They have a good fan base. The people that were able to come gave them an atmosphere. So they played with great energy, and we knew we’d have to match it. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t do that. Obviously, we struggled to get shots to fall. They had a good run to start the game where they made shots. I thought, at the end of the day, for the majority of the 40 minutes, their focus, their energy was better than ours tonight.”

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Dayton (10-5, 6-4) slipped from a tie for fourth to sixth place in the Atlantic 10 Conference, while Duquesne (7-6, 6-5) moved into a tie for seventh with Rhode Island (9-9, 6-5).

Dayton lost despite getting 28 points from Crutcher, who made 10 of 18 field goals and fell one point short of his career high. Freshman guard R.J. Blakney, who did not play in the previous two games, scored a career-high 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

Dayton’s other leading scorer on the season, Ibi Watson, had the worst 3-point shooting performance of his career. He missed all 10 of his 3-point attempts and scored eight points on 4-of-17 shooting. Elijah Weaver also struggled, recording no assists and no points or rebounds with four turnovers in 16 minutes.

Dayton made 8 of 35 3-pointers. Even Crutcher struggled. He made 3 of 11. Prior to this game, Dayton had not shot more than 27 3-pointers in a game.

“It was just one of those nights when shots don’t fall,” Grant said, “but I always try to preach to my teams that when what you do well isn’t going well, you have to be able to do something else that affects winning, and I thought Ibi went out tonight and battled. He couldn’t get shots to fall. We needed better performances all the way around. You’re going to have nights when the shots don’t fall, but you’ve got to be able to find other ways to win.”

Duquesne’s big men, Marcus Weathers and Michael Hughes, combined for 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting.

“Their front court tonight was pivotal,” Grant said. “You look at what those guys did that showed up in a stat sheet and then what didn’t show up on a stat sheet: their impact on the game on the defensive side; keeping balls alive when they did miss; and limiting our opportunities. Their length and their athleticism bothered us sometimes when we had opportunities around the rim.”

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Dayton played almost as poorly in the first half as it did against Virginia Commonwealth three games earlier. The Flyers trailed VCU 33-13 at halftime and trailed Duquense 39-24.

Dayton missed all eight of its 3-point attempts in the first half at VCU and missed its first nine 3-point attempts against Duquesne before Crutcher made one with 2:58 to play.

Crutcher was the only reason Dayton didn’t face a bigger deficit at halftime. He made 6 of 7 field goals and scored 15 points. He scored Dayton’s last 10 points of the half in the last three minutes.

Center Jordy Tshimanga’s foul trouble also hurt the Flyers. He picked up two fouls in the first four minutes and finished the game with four fouls and no rebounds in nine minutes. Tshimanga’s backup, Moulaye Sissoko, was unavailable because of an injury, Grant said.

“We had some young guys in there against two seniors that are two of the better front-court guys in the league,” Grant said.

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