Fans of the Dayton Flyers never stopped cheering during three days at the Maui Invitational. Anthony Grant’s family, seated halfway up stands behind the scorer’s table, screamed as loud as anybody. Hundreds of other fans, many of them regulars at these November tournaments, stood for most of the 125 minutes of basketball.
» PHOTOS: Flyers vs. Jayhawks
It’s an old story — Dayton fans traveling well, no matter the distance — but one that bears repeating.
“We got some of the greatest fans in the country,” Grant said. “You can see by the way they travel, the way they show up here. They love the Flyers. So I can’t thank them enough for coming out here and giving us all the love and support that they give us.”
Dayton had a large fan advantage Monday in an 80-61 victory against Georgia and again Tuesday in an 89-62 victory against Virginia Tech. UD fans may have matched Kansas fans in energy and decibels Wednesday in the championship game, but one of college basketball’s most famous programs did bring more fans, not to mention a talented team that proved just a bit too tough for the Flyers.
A 90-84 overtime loss to No. 4 Kansas (6-1) did not dim the outlook for the Flyers (5-1) in the 25 regular-season games to come and whatever postseason opportunities follow. It’s the opposite. Dayton’s performance raised the expectations to an even higher level. It is now favored in every remaining game, according to KenPom.com.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here,” Dayton guard Dwayne Cohill said. “We came here expecting to win the tournament. The fact that we got to the championship put everyone on notice. I think we’ve got a lot more.”
There were numerous big plays and big moments in the three-day stretch. Here’s a review of what happened:
Dayton’s MVP: Forward Obi Toppin averaged 22.3 points in the three games. His five-game streak of 20-point performances ended when he scored 18 against Kansas, but he’s leading Dayton with 23.0 points per game.
That number would rank second in school history behind Henry Finkel (25.3 in 1964-65) if it stands up for the whole season. No Dayton player has topped 20 in a season since Chip Jones (20.2) in 1990-91.
“He’s a special talent,” Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said, “and we’re lucky to have him.”
Biggest shot: Dayton guard Jalen Crutcher, who made 10 of 25 3-pointers in the three games, hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 3 seconds left to force overtime against Kansas.
“The play was to get the ball to Ibi (Watson) in the corner, but they played good defense on it,” Crutcher said. “I had nobody open, so just had to go and shoot it.”
“It was a good shot,” Dayton forward Ryan Mikesell said. “I have seen him make shots like that all the time, whether it’s in open gym or in practice and whatnot. When he had the ball in his hands, I went straight to the rim and I told him, ‘Just let it go.’”
Best dunk: Ibi Watson’s one-handed slam off a missed 3-pointer by Toppin at the halftime buzzer ranked third on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays list Tuesday. It capped a 20-5 run against Virginia Tech and gave the Flyers a 49-31 lead.
Best stats: Dayton’s consistent offense has scored at least 80 points in all six games. The Flyers rank No. 1 in the country in two categories: effective field-goal percentage (62.6), which takes into account 2s and 3s, and 2-point field-goal percentage (66.2). The offense ranks fifth overall in efficiency.
The Flyers improved their 3-point accuracy in each of the three games: 37 percent to 45.8 to 48.5. They rank 36th in the country in 3-point shooting accuracy (38.9) after ranking 231st (33.2) last season.
“I think it’s just trusting our preparation,” Mikesell said. “We take a lot of shots. We work on it all the time in the offseason. It’s no surprise that we come out here and hit shots because we put in a lot of work and we keep telling each other just shoot it. We build each other’s confidence up. If someone misses a shot, we’re always tapping them on the back saying, ‘Good shot, let it fly, just keep playing.’”
Best development: Dayton center Jordy Tshimanga, who missed the first three games with a knee injury, played seven minutes against Georgia and two minutes against Kansas, scoring five points in the two appearances. He didn’t get much of a chance to show what he can do in that short time, but it was a step toward getting back to playing meaningful minutes down the line.
Best quote: Grant summed up his team’s play in the final press conference Wednesday. His team was scheduled to fly home late Thursday night and arrive back in Dayton on Friday afternoon.
“Right now, I’m very, very proud of our team,” he said. “Our guys battled in three highly-competitive games in three days. These guys gave everything they had for each other. They battled it out all the way through the end. Obviously, it’s a tough loss. But like I told them in the locker room — whatever it was five, six days ago when we came here — we wanted to find out what we needed to do as a team to continue to move forward, and I think these guys did a great job of answering that. They fought obviously to the very end.”
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