Several members of the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team sat behind the bench at the women’s game Wednesday, cheering for the Flyers during a 79-70 victory against Duquesne at UD Arena.
The players saw a team heading in the opposite direction of their own. The Dayton women (17-4, 10-0) have won 11 games in a row and sit alone in first place in the Atlantic 10. The Dayton men (10-11, 4-5) haven’t won more than two in a row all season and face the possibility of being the program’s first losing team since 2006.
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Dayton has a number of issues holding it back, but if it has one glaring weakness, it’s defense. With the season more than two-thirds of the way over, the question becomes: How do you improve on the defensive end this late in the season?
Coach Anthony Grant answered that question Thursday before practice at the Cronin Center. His team goes on the road to play Massachusetts (10-12, 3-6) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s been a problem,” Grant said. “For us, our ability to take care of the basketball and not give up easy shots the other way affects what we do defensively, and we’ve got to do a better job making sure we can guard the basketball, especially with a team like UMass with a guard like (Luwane) Pipkins, who can break your defense down by himself, and the ability they have to stretch your defense with the 3-point shooting.
“For us right now, it’s more about the scouting report and making sure we’re locked into that and then the personal accountability to do our jobs individually.”
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Dayton ranks 244th in the country out of 351 teams in defensive efficiency after ranking 43rd last season. It ranks 274th in points allowed per possession (1.06). Last season, the Flyers ranked 26th (0.94).
The list of disappointing stats is a long one. Dayton ranks 299th in 3-point defense. Opponents are shooting 37.7 percent from long range. The national average is 35.1. Saint Louis, which shoots 34.8 percent, made a season-best 9 of 18 against Dayton in a 75-65 victory last Saturday.
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Dayton switches between man-to-man and zone defense. Point guard Jalen Crutcher said he thinks the team is better at man-to-man.
Asked what advice the players are getting from Grant and the assistant coaches about defense this late in the season, Crutcher said, “We’ve just got to look out for each other on the defensive end. He’s been telling us from the beginning that defense wins games, and we’re like last place in defense in our conference. We’ve just got to lock in.”