Trailing 77-76 point with 1.9 seconds to play, any hope Dayton had of starting off the Anthony Grant era on the right note seemed long gone. The Flyers were about to drop their season opener and start the 2017-18 campaign 0-1. But then, the miraculous happened. Inbounding from near half court, junior Xeyrius Williams lobbed a sky-high pass near the hoop. Outreaching two defenders, forward Josh Cunningham grabbed the ball, gathered himself, and put up a shot. Cunningham’s tear drop seemed to hang on the rim for a decade before falling through the hoop as time expired. UD Arena erupted as Cunningham’s buzzer beater gave Dayton a 78-77 season opening win.
Ultimately, a win is a win no matter how it happens. As Anthony Grant said in his post game press conference, though, the Flyers have a lot to learn from Friday night. After jumping out to a 12-0 lead to start the game, Dayton allowed Ball State right back in to the contest. The Flyers managed to push their lead back up to 13 with 3:44 left in the first half but it would not last. Going on a run to close the half, the Cardinals cut Dayton’s lead to 36-33 at the break. Coming out of halftime, Ball State picked up right where it left off. The Cardinals took their first lead and went up by as many as seven points before the Flyers responded.
Thanks to 22 points from Josh Cunningham, 16 from Darrell Davis, and 13 by John Crosby, Dayton came storming back. The Flyers, of course, would go on to win as a result of Cunningham’s heroics. Following the game, Anthony Grant said, “I think there’s a lot of things we’ll be able to take away from this game… there are a lot of lessons that we’ll learn, but I’m really happy to get the chance to do it through winning.” Yes Dayton still has a lot to improve on, but at the end of the day it’s much better to learn through a win than a loss.
With plenty of freshmen faces and new head coach Anthony Grant at the helm, expect Dayton to continue fine-tuning itself throughout 2017-18. Still trying to find an identity, the Flyers will continue to improve game by game this season. Earlier I asked lone captain Josh Cunningham about the transition from the Flyers’ play style last year to this year. Cunningham told that system wise, the transition from Archie Miller to coach Grant has been, “Easy. He (Grant) made it real easy. He’s real big on teaching, so we just listen to what he says in practice then go out there and execute it.” Dayton has made strides under Grant so far, but expect further improvement as this season continues to unfold.
Up next for the Flyers is a battle with Hofstra as they travel south for the Charleston Classic tournament. Dayton’s first round game will be Thursday night at 7:30 ET and nationally televised on ESPNU. Following the match-up with Hofstra, the Flyers will face either Clemson or Ohio University in their second game. Hopefully Dayton can continue winning and improving as the Anthony Grant era rolls on.