‘New season, fresh start’ awaits UD at Duquesne in A-10 opener

The break-in, non-conference portion of the men’s college basketball season is done for the University of Dayton and new men’s coach Anthony Grant. If there were a grace period for both players and coach, that was it.

The Atlantic 10 season awaits Dayton (6-6), beginning Saturday at Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo Center . UD defeated visiting Wagner 79-67 last Saturday.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” assured leading scorer Josh Cunningham prior to leaving for the Pittsburgh campus. “We just need to continue to grind it out and just learn each other and continue to grow. It’s a new season, a fresh start.”

Realistically, the Flyers will have to win the A-10 tourney to land a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Doing that will heavily depend on how they fare in regular-season conference play.

Cunningham and guard Darrell Davis have upped their games, especially this month. Cunningham, a 6-foot-7 redshirt junior from Chicago, is second in scoring (16.3 points) and leads in rebounding (9.8). He’s twice been named the A-10 player of the week.

He torched Mississippi State, Tennessee Tech and Penn in successive games by making 22 consecutive field goals, a program record. That vaulted him to his current position of No. 7 in the nation in field goal shooting percentage (.698).

Davis, a 6-5 senior guard from Detroit, averages a team-high 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists. That’s a significant 11-point increase from last season.

With Cunningham and Davis having established a go-to inside-outside presence, it’s on the rest of the Flyers to join in that productive fun.

“They’ve been the most consistent guys that we’ve had being able to produce at the level they produce,” Grant said. “We need that consistency throughout the conference season.”

UD swept both regular-season games against Duquesne last season. Like the Flyers, the Dukes (9-4) also have a new coach in Keith Dambrot. He left Akron after a long run with the Zips (2004-17) and was Central Michigan’s coach before that.

Other new A-10 men’s coaches are Matt McCall at Massachusetts and Virginia Commonwealth’s Mike Rhoades.

Wayne High School grad Trey Landers (7.7 points) is playing meaningful minutes as a Flyers sophomore. A 6-5 guard, he’s effective and strong enough to also present an inside impact. Jordan Davis, a 6-2 freshman, is averaging 11.0 points in his last five games and has hit 16 of 34 three-pointers (.471) in that span. Junior guard John Crosby (6.0) has re-earned his starting position and is averaging 9.5 points over the last four games.

UD’s other Wayne grad, 6-9 junior Xeyrius Williams (8.3 points; 3.7 rebounds), has re-established himself as a Flyers’ factor. He missed five games with an injured back but has played the last three.

And then there’s redshirt-freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo. At 6-10, a slight 197 pounds and with limited basketball experience, he’s a spring-loaded, shot-blocking highlight. His dunk agaisnt Wagner ranked No. 6 on ESPN SportsCenter’s plays of the day last weekend.

Kostas’ potential upside is unlimited; older brother Giannis is an established NBA star (Bucks). Kostas is averaging just 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds “but he does at least two things a game nobody else can in the building,” longtime UD director of information Doug Hauschild said.

That all adds up to a renewed sense of purpose for the Flyers.

“We’re still a work in progress,” assured Grant. “Hopefully, we’re moving toward an understanding of our identity and the roles we need to play. Hopefully, as a team we’ll reach our potential.”

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Dayton at Duquesne, 4 p.m., FS Ohio, AM 1290, News 95.7 WHIO

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