Second-half defense a weak spot for Dayton in opener

Indiana State rallies from 12 down to give Flyers a scare

Everyone sitting in the upper levels at UD Arena had a great view of the special pregame show featuring video projected from the ceiling onto Tom Blackburn Court.

» PHOTOS: Pregame ceremony and game action

The starters waiting to be introduced? Not so much. They were too close to get a clear look and were expecting to see the typical pregame video.

“We were all looking up at the big screen,” point guard Jalen Crutcher said. “Then everybody’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ We thought something was wrong. Then everybody was like, ‘Look at the floor.’”

“I didn’t really get what was going on,” forward Obi Toppin said, “but I’ll have to check it out on social media. I don’t even know what happened on the floor. Was it cool?”

It was cool and something unique in the history of the 50-year building, which was rededicated in a pregame ceremony that included players from the 1969-70 team, the first to play at UD Arena. However, as much pomp and circumstance factored into a memorable Saturday night, no one would have looked back at the game fondly if the Dayton Flyers had lost.

» UD ARENA: Fans write about their favorite memories

The game was closer than anyone expected, but the Flyers escaped with an 86-81 victory against Indiana State in front of a sell-out crowd of 13,407 in the first regular-season game of the 2019-20 season.

“It was a great atmosphere out there tonight,” said Dayton’s Anthony Grant after the first game of his third season. “Anytime it’s for real, it’s always different. This is the beginning of a brand-new season. I know our guys were excited to get out there and play. We’re happy to get the win. I think there will be a lot of things we’ll be able to take away.”

Here are three of those things:

1. Dayton's defense still needs work: The Flyers talked throughout the offseason about how their focus was on defense, but if the first game is any indication, they still have work to do.

Indiana State got to the free-throw line throughout the game, making 21 of 27 (77.8 percent), by attacking the rim and then got hot from the 3-point line late in the game, making 5 of 11 in the second half. That’s how they were able to rally from a 12-point deficit to get as close as one point (82-81) with 15 seconds to play.

This game wasn’t decided until Jordan Barnes, who scored 19 points, missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers on Indiana State’s second-to-last possession in the final 10 seconds.

“The first game of the season is always going to be kind of rough,” Crutcher said. “It’s not going to always be perfect. We’ve just got to tighten up. It felt good to get a win. We kind of let up on the defensive end toward the end.”

2. Dayton's offense picked up right where it left off: Toppin led the Flyers with a career-high 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He dunked six times. He also grabbed 12 rebounds. He lived up to all the offseason hype — and there was a lot of it.

Crutcher had 14 points, despite missing all five of his 3-point attempts, and a team-high six assists. Ryan Mikesell and Rodney Chatman each scored 12.

» PHOTOS: Dayton season-ticket holders

Just like last season, Dayton was strong inside the arc, making 22 of 33 shots (73.3), but sub-par behind the 3-point line (7 of 27, 25.9 percent). Still, the defensive performance overshadowed any offensive issues.

“Our team has to understand that we have enough talent offensively,” Grant said. “On any given night, we have a variety of guys who can step up for us. Our commitment to do what we have to do from a defensive standpoint, we’ve talked about it. It’s been a focus of ours. I think our guys can tell you that will determine how special this team has a chance to be.”

3. Dayton knows it has to be a better free-throw shooting team: The Flyers made 21 of 30 free throws (70 percent). They got to that number by making their last four. Crutcher made 2 of 2 with 13 seconds left to extend the lead to 84-81, and Trey Landers clinched the victory with two free throws with three seconds remaining.

Dayton shot 69 percent at the foul line last season, so 70 percent is an improvement but not good enough in Crutcher’s mind.

“We need to be a lot better,” he said. “I think we should be 75 or higher because free throws will help us a lot.”

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