Defense saved the Dayton Flyers when the offense wasn’t at its best.
Dayton overcame lackluster performances from behind the arc and at the free-throw line to beat La Salle 66-55 in their Atlantic 10 Conference opener Friday in front of a crowd of 12,963 fans at UD Arena.
A week after tying a school record with 15 made 3-pointers, the Flyers (10-3, 1-0 A-10) went 3-for-22 on treys and converted just 15 of 31 from the foul line for a season-low 48.4 free throw percentage. However, the defense came through to hold La Salle (6-5, 0-1 A-10) to its lowest points total of the season after averaging 84.2 points per game entering Friday.
“Terrific effort against a really good team,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “Just in watching La Salle, very few teams have been able to hold them down to those types of numbers. It probably has a little to do with being on the road in a tough environment and maybe a little of it has to do with us just in terms of I thought our guys played extremely hard. That was the reason we won the game.”
Dayton held the Explorers’ two leading scorers to a combined 18 points, as B.J. Johnson finished with 14 points and Jordan Price four. The two were both averaging close to 20 points per game heading into Friday’s matchup.
Much of Price’s lack of production came from the suffocating defense of Charles Cooke, who returned from last week’s wrist injury only to leave the floor with about three minutes left after landing hard on his back. Miller said he suspects Cooke could “miss a little time.”
Cooke also had a big hand in helping the Flyers to their double-digit halftime lead that pretty much held for the rest of the game. The senior dropped in all 13 of his points in the first half, as Dayton turned around a somewhat slow start to take a 38-27 advantage into the break.
“What he was able to do on Price, for a number of times just making it hard on him, goes unnoticed on a guy very difficult to guard,” Miller said. “When you add Charles’ value on both ends of the floor, he’s a two-way guy. Offensively, I think he’s struggling a little with his wrist and that’s affecting his shooting, a little bit on free throws, but he’s still at the basket and did a phenomenal job getting to the line six times and finished in the first half.”
The Flyers, whose three losses came after big first-half deficits, trailed La Salle for most of the first 12 minutes, but they used a 19-3 run over a seven-minute span to go ahead 34-23 with 1:39 left in the half. John Crosby’s personal 5-0 run got Dayton going, battling back from a 20-15 deficit.
La Salle never drew closer than eight points, and Dayton led by as a many as 14 in the second half. The Explorers had scored 15 of their first 16 points from 3-point range but finished 9-of-25 from behind the arc.
Pookie Powell paced La Salle with 23 points.
Forward Kendall Pollard stepped up to lead the Flyers with a season-high 20 points, while Kyle Davis added 12 points and Scoochie Smith tallied 11 points.
“Defense helped us out big time,” said Smith, who joined the 1,000-point, 400-assist club with his first of five assists Friday. “We missed a lot of 3s, a lot of free throws. We probably could have had 80 points tonight easily, but we played defense. We were locked in, and we held their two leading scorers to I don’t know how many points, but they shot pretty bad tonight, so that helped us out a lot.”