The Dayton Flyers have talked since last summer about making history. They reached rare heights by hitting the 20-mile milestone on Feb. 1 and then climbing to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll.
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On Saturday, with a 71-65 victory against Saint Louis at UD Arena, Dayton became the first team in school history to open the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule with 10 straight victories. They passed the 2003-04 team, led by Ramod Marshall, Keith Waleskowski and Sean Finn. That group started 9-0 and finished 12-4.
“That means a lot,” Dayton guard Jalen Crutcher said, “especially with all the guys who came before us, all the great guys. We’re just getting started.”
Dayton (21-2, 10-0) has won 12 games in a row and will now take aim at the 13-game winning streak compiled by the 2007-08 team. That’s the program’s longest winning streak in the last 40 years.
The Flyers opened the second half of the conference schedule by completing a season sweep of Saint Louis. There was less drama than the first game, which Crutcher won by making a last-second 3-pointer in overtime, but there was still drama.
“I thought today’s game was really what we expected,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Anytime our teams get together, it’s typically going to be a physical hard-fought game. I thought today was no different. I told the guys after the game it was really tough to get a rhythm or flow to the game. It was so back and forth.”
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Saint Louis (17-7, 6-5) trailed for more than 36 minutes in total but led twice by one point in the second half. It led 47-46 after a basket by Javonte Perkins with 13:02 to go, and then Dayton regained the lead on a layup by Crutcher with 11:28 to play.
Perkins scored again to give Saint Louis a 49-48 lead. Crutcher answered with a 3-pointer at the 10:25 mark. Dayton led the rest of the way but never by more than seven.
“Coach Grant was just telling us to keep our poise,” Crutcher said. “He was telling me to lead those guys on offense. That’s what I tried to do.”
Dayton won the game in part by making 20 of 27 free throws, while Saint Louis, the nation’s worst free-throw shooting team, made 10 of 16. Crutcher, Trey Landers and Rodney Chatman combined to make 6 of 8 free throws in the final 64 seconds. Crutcher made 8 of 8 free throws in the game.
The Flyers also won by committing a season-low six turnovers. It’s the second game in a row they’ve had fewer than 10. They had one single-digit turnover game in the first 21 games.
“The first time we played them, we did a good job of taking care of the ball,” Grant said. “We knew that was going to be critical. They’re really good in transition, and they hurt us several times in transition. We knew it would be important to keep them out of transition. The best way to do that would be to take care of the ball.”
Crutcher and Obi Toppin led Dayton with 17 points. Ryan Mikesell scored nine. Chatman had nine.
One of the game’s turning points came when Saint Louis forward Hasahn French, who had 15 points and eight rebounds, fouled out with 5:11 to play. Crutcher dribbled against French to pick up the foul and then hit two free throws to give Dayton a 59-54 lead.
“We knew it in the timeout when he subbed back in he had four,” Crutcher said. “We tried to attack him.”
Rhode Island at Dayton, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO
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