A team that majored in drama for nine games enjoyed a relative breather in the 10th game of the season.
The Dayton Flyers didn’t need to make a last-second shot Wednesday against Duquesne at UD Arena. They didn’t depend on the Dukes missing a shot at the buzzer. They didn’t need overtime to secure the victory. They made five free throws in the final 90 seconds, but they were not the pressure-filled shots of previous games.
By most measures, this was Dayton’s most dominant victory of the season. Even if it came against a team reeling from the loss of three starters, it’s another good step for Dayton (7-3, 3-2), which is starting to get healthy and starting to look like the Atlantic 10 Conference contender it was expected to be. It trails four 3-1 teams in the standings by a half game but is one of seven teams tied for the league lead with three victories.
Dayton overcame a 34-33 halftime deficit by outscoring Duquesne 26-7 in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
“Happy we were able to find a way to get the win tonight,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “I thought in the second half our defense really opened things up for us. The guys did a really good job of getting stops and using that to create transition opportunities. It led to threes, led to layups, led to us being able to build a little bit of a lead, and then it was good to see our guys be able to sustain that. Over the course of the game, they had their runs and we had our runs, but it’s great way to to finish it out. I’m happy we didn’t have to go down to the last couple of seconds of the game like most of them have been.”
One reason Dayton had a cushion down the stretch was its 3-point shooting. The Flyers made 10 of 24 3-pointers (41.7 percent). They have shot better than 40 percent in each of their last four victories and have made at least 10 3-pointers in each of their A-10 victories.
Ibi Watson made 4 of 8 3-pointers and led Dayton with 19 points. Jalen Crutcher made 2 of 4 3-pointers and scored 18 points, 11 of which came during a five-minute span in the first half as Dayton erased an early 16-7 deficit.
Elijah Weaver made 2 of 5 3-pointers. Zimi Nwokeji and Mustapha Amzil each made one 3-pointer.
Dayton is shooting 37.4 percent from 3-point range. If that stands, it would be the team’s best percentage since 2017 (38.4), the last season of the Archie Miller era. The Flyers shot 37.1 percent last season.
“I thought tonight the guys did a good job of making the extra pass and finding guys,” Grant said. “I do think as we play more and get more reps together and guys get more comfortable in their roles, we have a team that’s capable of having some consistency in terms of shooting the 3. We obviously have two dynamic guys in Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson that lead the way for us with what they can do offensively. With the attention those guys draw, you’re going to get some open looks from other guys as well.”
Duquesne, on the other hand, did not get a strong offensive performance from anyone other than Marcus Weathers, who was on pace to reach 100 points after scoring 10 in the first four minutes. He finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
Duquesne shot 48.3 percent from the field in the first half and 33.3 percent in the second half. After Ryan Murphy’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer gave Duquesne a one-point lead, it missed eight of its first nine shots in the second half.
“Coach Grant just challenged us at halftime,” Weaver said. “We kind of started getting a little lack at the end of the first half. We gave up a couple threes. He challenged us at halftime to come out and play better defense and just be solid all around.”
Duquesne (3-4, 2-3) fell to 1-1 since the loss of two starters: Sincere Carry, who entered the transfer portal, and Maceo Austin, who’s taking time away from the team for personal reasons.
The Dukes beat Fordham 48-45 on Saturday but could not overcome struggles from beyond the arc (3 of 17, 17.6 percent) and from the free-throw line (8 of 17, 47.1 percent) in this game.
“We’ve got scoring issues; we just don’t have enough pop,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot told Zachary Weiss, of Pittsburgh Sports Now. “We held Dayton to 43 percent, which should be right in the game to win, and we can’t make free throws either. There is nothing more deflating than missing free throws, and we’ve missed them pretty much all year.”