Flyers rout Northern Illinois for fifth straight win

DaRon Holmes said his first couple home games this season at sold-out UD Arena made him nervous. But the nerves are gone. And if he suffered from any anxiety Saturday, an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Malachi Smith 15 seconds into the game washed it away.

“We’re a blessed team,” Holmes said. “Not every college basketball team gets to have great fans like this.”

The Flyer Faithful, who watched their team slog through a three-game home losing streak, is beginning to feel blessed as well. A turnaround that began with an upset over then-No. 4 Kansas at the ESPN Events Invitational at Disney World, continued Saturday in a 79-41 rout of Northern Illinois at UD Arena.

The Flyers (6-3) have won five straight and talked Saturday about how they are finding their identity on both ends of the floor.

“We have a high ceiling and we figured out sharing the ball just creates for all of our teammates,” said Holmes, who scored 14 points.

The balance was led by Elijah Weaver with 16 points off the bench. Koby Brea came off the bench to make 4 of 5 3-pointers and score 12 and point guard Malachi Smith scored 11. The four double-figure scorers combined to make 20 of 25 shots.

“Everybody can score so just get everybody involved and everything else will take care of itself,” Weaver said.

For Weaver, Saturday was a chance to redeem himself after missing Wednesday’s victory over Alabama State for disciplinary reasons. He said his mindset was: “Bounce back. Stay locked in. Do what’s best to help the team win. Just continue to be a basketball player.”

Weaver started the first five games and is averaging 10.9 points a game.

“The best thing is Elijah owned up to it,” Flyers coach Anthony Grant said. “He was accountable, so that’s growth. We move forward. I don’t have a doghouse. He did a great job today.”

The Flyers’ depth helps just as much – possibly more – on defense. They press and trap in the full court. Opponents are shooting 41.7% against the Flyers after they held the Huskies (2-6) to 29.1%.

“Our defense can create offense for us,” Grant said. “The pressing allows our depth to become a factor, and with a young team it helps them to be able to find a rhythm, find a flow better because it creates opportunities.”

Holmes is 6-foot-10 but doesn’t mind the fast pace that the press creates.

“Our team is extremely athletic, we’re really good at getting up and down and that can wear and tear on different teams,” he said. “Running the floor is another advantage that we have.”

The Flyers led 9-0 two-and-a-half minutes into the game. The last two points of the run came off a turnover that Smith converted into a layup. The lead grew to 19-2, then 24-6. The Huskies responded with a 5-0 run heading into a media timeout. The Flyers came back and maintained the lead before a late run pushed the halftime lead to 41-22.

“We just all communicated and locked back in,” Holmes said. “After that happened, great things on the defensive end for us started to happen.”

Dayton plays at SMU on Wednesday in its first true road game. That will be followed by a home game with Virginia Tech, a road game at Ole Miss and another home game against Southern before starting Atlantic 10 play at Rhode Island on Dec. 30.

“This team has a lot of room to grow with a young group that’s just beginning to understand college basketball,” Grant said. “I’m excited about trying to figure out how we can do that.”

The fledgling team identity of sharing the ball on offense and creating more offense with high-pressure defense is becoming obvious to young players who looked lost before Thanksgiving.

“We’re starting to see shots fall, we’re starting to move the ball a lot more,” Holmes said. “Defensively we’re all working together to get stops. As a unit we’re playing hard.”


Dayton at SMU, 8 p.m., ESPN+, 1290, 95.7

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