‘Double trouble’ — Dayton dominant on both sides of court in victory at UMass

In four-game winning streak, Dayton has victories against two of the top four teams in A-10 and two of the bottom three teams

AMHERST, Mass. — Coaches Anthony Grant and Frank Martin talked on the court at the Mullins Center early Wednesday. They met in the pregame handshake line and then again in the postgame line after the Dayton Flyers beat Massachusetts 72-54. Long after both coaches spoke at press conferences and before Dayton’s bus departed, the coaches again found time to talk on the side of the court.

The friendship of Grant and Martin goes back to their high school days in Miami, Fla., and has been well documented over the years. It won’t be as big a storyline the next time they meet. This was their first matchup in the Atlantic 10 Conference, so it was a worthy topic for both sides.

“It’s always great to see him,” Grant said. “This is not a game that I think either of us really look forward to playing because we know one of us is not going to win the game. I root hard for him. It was great to to see his family after the game. I’m just so proud of what he’s done.”

Grant saw Martin’s children — Brandon, Christian and Amalia — for the first time in quite some time, he said. Brandon is a graduate student who played for his dad last season at South Carolina after starting his career with three seasons at USC Upstate. He had one point in 11 minutes after missing the previous two games with an injury.

“Brandon is my godson,” Grant said. “It was the first time I’ve seen him play in person. Our job sometimes keep us from that. The game is the game, but your relationship goes beyond the basketball piece of it.”

Grant improved to 3-4 against Martin. The first six games took place when Grant was at Alabama and Martin was at Kansas State and South Carolina. They entered this game and ended it on opposite sides of the A-10 standings.

UMass (14-14, 5-11), which sits in 13th place in the 15-team league, lost for the sixth time in the last seven games. Dayton (19-9, 11-4) won its fourth straight game. During the streak, the Flyers beat two of the top-four teams in the standings, Virginia Commonwealth (21-7, 12-3) and Saint Louis (18-10, 10-5), by a combined 18 points and two of the three bottom teams, Loyola Chicago (9-18,3-12) and UMass, by 34.

“We’re not ready to win against a program like that,” Martin said. “We’re in two different places as a program. They’ve got winning pedigree. They’ve got connectivity. They’ve got leadership. There are no breakdowns, and when there is, somebody has the guy’s back.”

Dayton led from start to finish after opening the game with a 9-0 run. Koby Brea made a 3-pointer on the first possession. DaRon Holmes II then scored back-to-back baskets on the next two possessions. Brea made Dayton’s fourth shot in a row on the fourth possession. After the first basket by UMass, Toumani Camara made two free throws on Dayton’s fifth possession to give the Flyers an 11-2 lead.

UMass overcame that early deficit and cut Dayton’s lead to 25-23 only to have the Flyers end the first half with a 12-4 run in the last four minutes. Malachi Smith scored five of his seven points during that stretch. He also assisted Holmes on two dunks.

Holmes led Dayton with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

“He’s a really good player,” Martin said, “and they have a discipline they play with. They keep coming at you. Holmes kept posting, kept posting, kept sprinting into ball screens, kept sprinting out of ball screens. As soon as we relaxed, he exploited us.”

The effort by Holmes followed an 8-of-10, 20-point performance at Loyola Chicago. He twice scored four points in a five-game stretch in January but has averaged 15.8 points in five February games.

“It’s just taking what the defense gives us,” Holmes said. “Sometimes it’s me going out there and doing that, and sometimes it’s me playing harder on the defensive end and being more of an energy guy.”

Smith finished with eight assists and one turnover. Dayton had 19 assists and eight turnovers, two off its season low.

The Flyers showed strong ball movement, especially in the second half. For example, Mustapha Amzil threw a bounce pass to a cutting R.J. Blakney, who threw down the best dunk of the night. Trapped in the corner, Holmes threw a pass across court to Brea, who drew the defender with a slight shot fake and then passed to Amzil, who made a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner.

This was one of Dayton’s best all-around games. The A-10′s top defense held its fourth straight opponent under 60 points. The Flyers also made 8 of 19 3-pointers (42.1%). They are 9-0 when they shoot 42% or better.

“Double trouble, man,” Brea said. “We know that the defense is always going to be there. It’s just about executing the right way offensively.”

Dayton beat a team playing without its top two scorers but won without one of its top reserves, Mike Sharavjamts, who did not travel with the team because of an illness. Blakney scored four points in his first appearance after a two-game absence.

The Flyers still have played only one game with a fully healthy roster but are a long way from the roster instability that plagued them from November through January. Grant hopes the increasing familiarity players have with their roles continues to pay dividends in the final three games of the regular season and then the A-10 tournament.

“I hope there’s another level we can push to,” Grant said.

Dayton (19-9, 11-4), which plays George Mason at 6 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena, stayed in second place with the victory. It trails first-place Virginia Commonwealth (21-7, 12-3) by a game.

Saint Louis (18-10, 10-5) and Fordham (22-6, 10-5) are tied for third. The Flyers will clinch a top-four seed in the A-10 tournament and a double bye to the quarterfinals with one more victory or one more loss by fifth-place Duquesne (19-9, 9-6).

Martin sees Dayton as a NCAA tournament team. He thinks the selection committee should take into account Dayton’s early-season injuries. That seems improbable at this point. Dayton will most likely have to win the A-10 tournament to play in the NCAA tournament. Regardless, Martin enjoyed seeing his friend’s passion on the sideline

“Watching him yakking at his team and fighting with the referees, that made me really happy because the last 10 months have been difficult for him,” Martin said. “That’s his passion. It’s helping young people. Our team didn’t put up a fight in the second half, and I’m a lot of things, but I’m a fighter and when my side doesn’t fight, I don’t go home very happy. But knowing there’s a certain spirit that he’s coaching his team with right now gives me peace. He’s in a good place right now.”

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