ESPN Events Invitational: Dayton rewards loyal fans with best performance of season

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Dayton Flyers celebrate victory against Miami on Nov. 25, 2021

Elijah Weaver, Mustapha Amzil combine to make seven 3s

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Fans of the Dayton Flyers lined up long before the doors opened at the HP Fieldhouse at 11 a.m. Thursday. The line followed the length of the building and then looped back around toward the front. They couldn’t wait to see their team play in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational — never mind the results of the last two weeks.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Miami

At noon, those same fans entered the arena at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex. For the next two hours, they drowned the building in their cheers, and a little before 2 p.m. they took the noise to another level as they celebrated a 78-60 victory against the Miami Hurricanes.

The Flyers danced to “Old Town Road,” by Little Nas X, in front of the fans before heading to the locker room. Along the way, they got hugs from Anthony Grant, who waited for them on the edge of the court after embracing each of his assistant coaches.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who began a Final Four run with George Mason with two victories at UD Arena in 2006, was asked if the Dayton fans impacted the final result.

“Of course,” Larranaga said. “Dayton basketball fans are infamous.”

Explore» RELATED: Dayton fans proud to support their team

Whether Larranaga meant famous or infamous, both adjectives work depending on your point of view. Few Miami fans attended the game even though it was in their home state. Dayton fans flock to these November tournaments no matter where they’re played. They came to this game despite the program’s worst start to a season in decades.

“That just shows how loyal our fans are,” Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II said. “They’re always going to be here with us, and we really love and appreciate that because that helps us out a lot.”

The devotion of the fans was rewarded with the best Dayton performance of the season — an effort that provides hope Dayton can make something out of its season after three resume-killing losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay in an eight-day stretch.

“The last three were pretty rough,” Dayton guard Malachi Smith. “We just took them as learning experiences. We definitely needed this one.”

Dayton (2-3) earned a rematch with Kansas, which beat Dayton 90-84 in overtime in the Maui Invitational championship in 2019, in the semifinals. The game will take place around 1:30 p.m. or 20 minutes after the 11 a.m. consolation-round game between Miami and North Texas. It will air on ESPN, and Dick Vitale will be the analyst.

The fourth-ranked Jayhawks (4-0) beat North Texas 71-59 in the second game Thursday.

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Dayton Flyers press conference: Anthony Grant and Malachi Smith after beating Miami on Nov. 25, 2021

Here are three reasons the Flyers got back on track in the first game against the Hurricanes since 1989:

1. Dayton made 3-pointers

The Flyers shot 57.9 percent (11 of 19) from 3-point range after shooting 22.8 percent (18 of 79) in the first four games.

Elijah Weaver scored all 14 of his points in the second half and made 4 of 4 3-pointers in the half. Mustapha Amzil, who had 11 points, made 3 of 7 3-pointers after making 3 of 17 in the first four games. R.J. Blakney made 2 of 4 3-pointers and scored six points. Koby Brea and Smith each made one 3-pointer.

“I feel like the rim is going to start to open up a lot more now over the course of the season,” Brea said, “and we’ll be able to show what we’re capable of doing.”

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Dayton's Elijah Weaver reacts after making a 3-pointer against Miami on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational at the HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton's Elijah Weaver reacts after making a 3-pointer against Miami on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational at the HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton's Elijah Weaver reacts after making a 3-pointer against Miami on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational at the HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

2. Elijah Weaver made big shots

Weaver committed two turnovers in first two minutes of the second half as Miami trimmed Dayton’s 36-25 halftime lead to 36-31. After Dayton coach Anthony Grant called a timeout, Weaver made back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead back to double digits, 44-31 with 16:12 to play. Miami trailed by double digits the rest of the way.

Weaver made two more 3-pointers later in the second half but also had two more turnovers and finished with six of the team’s 16.

“That’s what we need out of him: to play with confidence,” Grant said. “He shot the ball well. Sometimes that’s out of your control. ... I don’t like the six turnovers. I think he’s got to take care of basketball, but I thought overall he stayed the course, and the most important thing was winning the game.”

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Dayton's DaRon Holmes II takes the ball to the basket against Miami on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational at the HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton's DaRon Holmes II takes the ball to the basket against Miami on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational at the HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton's DaRon Holmes II takes the ball to the basket against Miami on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in the first round of the ESPN Events Invitational at the HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

3. The Flyers overcame a slow start

Dayton couldn’t buy a basket — even an easy one — in the opening minutes. Miami wasn’t much better and never did find an offensive rhythm, shooting 38.3 percent (23 of 60) from the field and 20 percent (4 of 20) from 3-point range.

Dayton did get its offensive attack going, thanks in part to DaRon Holmes II, who scored a career-high 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He also made 5 of 9 free throws. Smith also had success attacking the rim and scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go with a team-high seven assists.

Dayton shot 58.7 percent from the field after shooting 43.5 percent over the first four games. It made 16 of 27 shots (59.2 percent) from 2-point range.

“We told our players early in the game they’re really going to attack the rim and go inside,” Larranaga said. “We’re not a very big team. They were able to do that successfully, which gave them tremendous confidence.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Dayton vs. Kansas, 1:30 p.m., ESPN, 1290, 95.7

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