The last Dayton Flyers fans heard from Anthony Grant — at least if they were listening to his post-game comments after a 94-90 victory Dec. 29 against Georgia Southern — he did not sound like a coach whose team had won three straight games and ranked among the best Atlantic 10 Conference teams on all the various analytic websites. He sounded frustrated.
Grant rarely criticizes his team. He never points the finger at individual players. These comments, coming after his team almost blew a 16-point lead in the second half, were some of his strongest in his two seasons as coach.
“There’s a concerning trend in terms of the way we compete,” Grant said.
“We have to be better,” he added.
“We have to grow up as a team,” he said.
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Five days later, junior guard Trey Landers confirmed Grant delivered a similar message to the team in the locker room but maybe not in such nice terms.
“I don’t think the message was as light, though,” said Landers with a smile. “He kind of emphasized the same thing. That’s big for us. We come out the first half and get a nice little lead on teams, and you see teams start coming out in the second half and shooting the ball really well. We’ve just got to lock in from a defensive standpoint in the second half, and if we do that, I feel we’ll be just fine.”
Dayton (8-5) hopes its 13 non-conference games, especially the five against top-50 teams, prepare it for the A-10 schedule. It will find out starting at noon Sunday at UD Arena. The Richmond Spiders (6-7) visit for the first of 18 conference games.
Here are five things to know about the game:
1. Home-court advantage: For Dayton to have a chance to win the A-10 regular-season title, it has to protect the home court. It finished 8-1 at UD Arena in conference play last season. Its only road victory came at Richmond (87-81 on Jan. 9).
Josh Cunningham scored 20 points in that victory. Trey Landers added 18. Dayton held forward Grant Golden, who is Richmond’s top scorer this season (19.5 points per game), to six points on 3-of-12 shooting.
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Jacob Gilyard (14.9) is another starter who returns from that game for Richmond, but three other starters won’t play in the game for various reasons. De’Monte Buckingham was dismissed from the team last April. Khwan Fore, who averaged 11 points as a junior, graduated and transferred to Louisville, where he’s averaging 3.4 points. Nick Sherod (12.7) suffered a season-ending knee injury in November.
2. Up-and-down season: Richmond enters the game with two straight victories against teams ranked below 200 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings: No. 236 High Point and No. 228 South Alabama.
The Spiders beat No. 153 Wake Forest but also have four losses to teams ranked below 200.
Richmond has lost four straight games at UD Arena since a 70-61 victory in 2011.
“I heard it’s a wild place up there, and I can’t wait for it,” Golden told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “That’s exciting. I enjoy going on the road, lots of people screaming and yelling at us. I think that’s fun.”
3. Rebounding strength: Landers enters A-10 play as the second-leading rebounder in the conference (8.0 per game). At 6-foot-5, he’s the shortest player to rank in the top five.
“Height don’t mean anything,” Landers said.
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Landers averaged 5.6 rebounds per game last season. He’s a big reason the Flyers rank third in the conference in rebounding margin (plus 3.9).
“That’s something you can really do drills to work on that. That’s more hustle and effort. Trey’s a guy that all of our fans would say plays with great heart and determination, and that has a lot to do with being able to be an effective rebounder. He puts himself in position. The more you go, the more you’ll get. He does a good job of putting the effort forth to go to the glass.”
4. Shooting strength: Another strong number for Dayton entering league play is point guard Jalen Crutcher’s 3-point shooting percentage. He’s shooting 43.8 percent (35 of 80), which ranks fourth in the conference.
Crutcher has made at least one 3-pointer in every game. Last season, he shot 33.8 percent (52 of 154).
“I’m just really taking my time shooting the ball,” Crutcher said. “Last year, I think I was rushing most of my shots.”
5. Opposing viewpoint: Richmond coach Chris Mooney was most concerned with Dayton’s offense when he talked to reporters Friday. The Flyers rank 50th in the nation in offensive efficiency and second in 2-point shooting percentage (61.0).
“Boy, they’re terrific offensively,” Mooney said. “They have five really good basketball players. I’d say their depth is probably not where they want it to be. They pass the ball really well. They shoot a very high percentage from the field. They’re just a very dangerous team because they can score in a lot of different ways.”