Dayton Flyers Josh Cunningham threw an elbow that may or may not have caught Davidson’s Oskar Michelsen in the head. Both players looked surprised when an official stopped play with 5:49 to play and reviewed the film to assess whether Cunningham deserved a technical foul.
Cunningham did get the technical. That could have been a turning point Tuesday at UD Arena. After the foul, Peyton Aldridge hit two free throws that were part of an 11-3 run. A 55-48 Dayton lead turned into a 59-58 deficit with two minutes to play.
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It says something about the Flyers that they still found a way to win in the final minutes, riding big shots by Darrell Davis and Jalen Crutcher and free throws by Trey Landers to a 65-64 victory over the second-place team in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“Tonight we took a step with our maturity in terms of being able to handle different adversity that came up through the course of the game,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “and there was certainly a lot of it.”
Davis hit a go-ahead jump shot with 1:45 to play, ending a Dayton scoring drought of 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Aldridge, who led all scorers with 24 points, responded with a basket on the next possession, giving the Wildcats a 61-60 lead at the 1:27 mark.
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On the next possession, Crutcher hit the biggest shot of his young career. His 3-pointer with 56 seconds left put the Flyers ahead for good. Josh Cunningham, who scored 15 points and made 7 of 10 shots from the field, was the first option on the play, but Crutcher found himself wide open after a pass from Jordan Davis with the shock clock close to expiring.
“I’m very confident in my shooting,” Crutcher said. “I just took the shot and made it.”
Crutcher scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He added six assists and, most importantly, no turnovers. He has averaged 11.8 points in eight Atlantic 10 games, ranking third on the team, after averaging 5.3 points in 12 non-conference games. Crutcher made 2 of 7 3-pointers. In the last four games, he has made 14 of 28.
“Jalen is one of those players,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Just watching him in high school, he wants to take those shots. He’s a very confident kid in terms of his belief in his ability to make shots at crucial times. I think we had a play on where we felt like we could get Josh a look inside, and we had (Jordan Davis) in the corner. The ball got swung to him, and there was maybe two seconds on the shot clock. Great extra pass. He was open. He got a great look at it. We’re thankful it went in.”
Two free throws by Trey Landers with 22 seconds to play proved just as big as Crutcher’s shot. The Flyers beat Davidson by making their free throws (9 of 11). T hat helped offset Davidson’s advantage behind the 3-point line. The Wildcats made 10 of 23 3-pointers (43.5 percent), while the Flyers made 8 of 24 (33.3).
The Flyers also beat Davidson by limiting their turnovers. They tied their season low with six one game after committing 21 in an 88-74 loss to Rhode Island.
“I thought tonight we did a pretty good job of being aware of the need to take care of the ball,” Grant said. “I think it’s still an area for us as a team we can get better with as we mature and grow.”
Davidson (10-8, 5-2) trailed for all but 57 seconds after falling behind 12-0. The Wildcats missed their first six shots and had three turnovers in the first six minutes. They didn’t get on the board until the 13:21 mark.
“I thought that was a heck of a basketball game tonight,” Grant said. “From the start, I thought our guys came out with great focus. I’ll go back and look at the film, and I think obviously there are things we could do better, but I thought from start to finish, our ability to lock in from a defensive standpoint was a really good thing. Davidson is a really good team. Offensively, they’re one of the best in the league. They’re a very efficient team. Our guys made them work for what they got tonight.”