On the road with the Dayton Flyers to California

Dayton Flyers players wait for their flight to California on Sunday morning at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Larry Hansgen / STAFF

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Dayton Flyers players wait for their flight to California on Sunday morning at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Larry Hansgen / STAFF

After Saturday’s thrilling overtime win over Georgia State at UD Arena, the Dayton Flyers face St. Mary’s on Tuesday night in Moraga, Calif.

The Voice of the Flyers on WHIO Radio, Larry Hansgen, is traveling with the team and providing a behind-the-scenes look at the trip.

7:25 p.m., Monday

Today was a full squad practice day, as the Flyers took the winding roads out of Walnut Creek, Calif. to the campus of Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. I remembered the isolated setting from a Flyer football game vs. the Gaels in 2001 (SMC has since dropped the sport). As Flyer coaches were preparing for that matchup watching tape, they saw deer run across the field during a home game.

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The Gaels have been, along with Gonzaga, a force in the West Coast Conference in recent years, and frequently showing up in the Top 25 polls This week they were among teams also receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. A lot of this success has been due to an influx of players from Australia. Notable alums Paddy Mills and Matthew Dellavadova are in the NBA, and the current roster features six players from Down Under, including 6-foot-11 senior center Jock Londale.

The Flyers did not practice “full go” today, but rather did some situational half-court offensive and defensive work. Coach Anthony Grant emphasized moving the ball quickly, before the defense can recover, telling his players to count “one one thousand” in their heads and making a pass in that amount of time.

Xyerius Williams practiced at full speed. After playing 13 minutes against Georgia State, it is hoped he can play between 15 and 20 minutes on Tuesday, provided they are productive ones. Based upon the practice lineups, look for the same starters that we saw on Saturday: Josh Cunningham, Darrell Davis, Jordan Davis, Trey Landers and John Crosby.

The game site will be the second smallest in which the Flyers will play this year. Only LaSalle’s Tom Gola Arena (3,400) seats less than the McKeon Center (3,500). Nevertheless, a cross country trip and a game against a top 40 team on their court stacks the odds against Dayton. A loss could be expected, but a win would be a huge upset and confidence builder.

The team is having a dinner out tonight at an upscale steak house, and then Tuesday will go over the final pieces of game prep.

12:22 a.m., Monday

A bumpy flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco was otherwise uneventful. Players dozed or watched movies on the back-of-the-seat media center on board. Halle Berry’s “Kidnapped” was a popular choice, but got mixed reviews. Coaches were already game planning for Saint Mary’s.

On the bus ride from the airport to the hotel the players went Old School, singing Roger’s, “I Want To Be Your Man.” I don’t even think they know of the Dayton connection. It was good to hear them enjoying themselves. After a disappointing performance in a loss to Penn and then finals week, the win over Georgia State was just what the doctor ordered.

I am sure there are Dayton fans who question the level of exuberance in a win over Georgia State, but I caution them to keep in mind the makeup of this team. Most of these guys, literally, can count the number of college wins in their career on just one hand. Every single one is big at this point.

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As I was doing some prep work on the plane, I looked back at last year’s stats. In every game but one, Dayton was led in scoring by one of the now graduated seniors. The only exception was a win over VMI in which Sam Miller led the team in scoring with 15.

After driving across the Bay Bridge and seeing Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge off to our left, we arrived at our destination north and east of Oakland in Walnut Creek, Calif.. We are staying at the Renaissance Club Sport, which in addition to a pool and workout room, has a full basketball court. Those players who saw no or little action against Georgia State had a workout, and got up some shots. It was a chance for Josh Cunningham and Darrell Davis to get off their feet after playing 43 and 44 minutes respectively.

8:45 a.m., Sunday

Despite the win, it was a quiet bus ride from the UD Arena to the Marriott near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Saturday night. I think the players, coaches and this broadcaster were worn out after the 88-83 win over Georgia State .

Coach Anthony Grant talked after the game how happy he was for his players to get that win and the experience of closing out a victory in a crunch-time situation. He also talked about how that experience for the young guys cannot be replicated in practice. He was at a loss for words in describing the effort of Josh Cunningham, who recorded a career-high 29 points with 18 rebounds in 43 minutes .

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Josh told me when we got off the bus and checked into the hotel that he had never been this tired. He had his first shot attempt in the game blocked, ending a school record streak of 22 in a row, but then began a new streak hitting his next eight shots. He made 13 of 17 free throws. He also took three charges. He had to be sore!

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This morning, Josh was the first player to show up at breakfast. The short trip to the airport terminal was uneventful. I spent time in the TSA line talking to freshman walk-on Cameron Greer, from suburban Chicago. He raved about his experience as a Flyer to date.

The coaching staff has already moved on from the win over Georgia State and is prepping hard to put together a scouting report on Saint Mary’s. Josh Cunningham will face his biggest challenge to date, literally, in 6-foot-11 Jock Londale of the Gaels.

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