Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant grew up a Miami Dolphins fan in the Bob Griese era. He’s more of a college football fan these days and developed an appreciation of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow when Burrow was at LSU. Then he learned more about Burrow from former Flyer Ibi Watson, who played two years of high school basketball with Burrow in Athens, Ohio.
“It’s great to see good people have success,” Grant said.
When asked Saturday after an 80-54 victory against George Washington at UD Arena if five years in Ohio had made him a Bengals fan, Grant said, “I do like the Bengals, but I don’t have a team that I pull for, to be honest with you. I don’t have the luxury of Sundays off.”
That was true this weekend as well. Dayton flew to Rhode Island on Sunday evening. It was scheduled to leave Ohio at about the same time Super Bowl LVI kicked off in California.
The Flyers (17-8, 9-3) face their shortest turnaround this season in Atlantic 10 Conference play with 55 hours between the tipoff of their game Saturday against the Colonials and a 9 p.m. start against Rhode Island on Monday at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I.
A second straight blowout victory at least helped Grant limit the minutes for his starters, none of whom played more than 27 minutes against George Washington or more than 28 minutes Wednesday in a 75-54 victory against Duquesne.
“That’s always good,” Grant said. “Anytime you’re not logging heavy minutes this time of year.”
Rhode Island (13-10, 4-7) had lost six straight games before beating first-place Davidson (20-4, 10-2) 72-65 on Saturday at the Ryan Center. Jeremy Sheppard scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Makhi Mitchell had 16 points. The Rams made 7 of 13 3-pointers (53.8%), their best performance of the season.
With Davidson’s loss, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth (16-7, 9-3) moved within a game of first place with six games to play. Saint Louis (17-7, 8-3) slipped a half game behind Dayton and VCU after losing 68-61 to St. Bonaventure (14-7, 6-4) on Friday. Fifth-place Richmond (17-9, 8-5) is another team still contending for a top-four finish and a double-bye in the A-10 tournament.
Rhode Island’s victory opened the door again for Dayton, VCU and Saint Louis to challenge for the regular-season championship. With Davidson coming to UD Arena on March 5 in the final regular-season game of the year, Dayton could win at least a share of the title by winning its last six games, though that’s going to be a tall task.
Rhode Island proved it can beat anyone by upsetting Davidson.
“We all kind of needed this victory, but particularly these players,” Rhode Island coach David Cox told the Providence Journal. “They’ve been working so hard and they’ve stayed consistent. They haven’t folded. They haven’t complained. They haven’t made excuses. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
In the first game against Dayton on Jan. 28, the Flyers won 53-51 despite shooting 30.9% from the field, its worst mark of the season, and going 8 minutes, 44 seconds in the second half without a point. Four free throws from Malachi Smith and Mustapha Amzil in the final 12 seconds clinched the victory.
“It was a battle,” Grant said. “It came down to the wire. They’re really good defensively, and they made it very difficult for us to find good shots. I thought we played pretty good defensively as well, limiting them. They’ve got really good personnel. As you can see tonight, in this league, anything can happen.”
Dayton at Rhode Island, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290, 95.7