Dayton fans can tell you that this season has been frustrating of sorts. They’ve sat through nine games of intense, close scoring games that resulted in either miraculous wins or late buzzer-beating letdowns. Well, that type of game did not come to fruition on Wednesday night in UD Arena as the Flyers took care of business against Duquesne by winning 72-63.
The Flyers were led by their two stars in Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson, who scored 18 and 19 points, respectively, for Dayton. Freshman forward Mustapha Amzil also scored in double figures with 11 points of his own, along with 8 rebounds. Elijah Weaver manned the point with 9 points with also dishing out 6 assists, which led the team. Jordy Tshimanga did not put up many points (only 2 on the night), but he led the team with 9 rebounds. Zimi Nwokeji seemed to finally found his role, scoring 9 points on 6-8 shooting from the free throw line and hitting 1-3 from the arch.
Marcus Weathers was the only threat for Duquesne, scoring 19 points while also pulling down 8 rebounds. Ten of those points were the first in the game for the Dukes. From there, Duquesne could not find much else from the rest of the team. Weathers is the only big contributor left for Duquesne after Sincere Carey and Maceo Austin left the team earlier in the week. Not only that, it has been a disappointing season for fellow big man Michael Hughes, who was a non-factor down low last night, only adding 4 points and 3 rebounds.
For the Flyers, this was finally a complete team effort. Still without Rodney Chatman, their starting point guard, Elijah Weaver proved that he can fill in nicely while also gaining some good experience. The majority of the team’s minutes still went to Crutcher and Watson, but the bench play of Nwokeji and Brea were enough to help Dayton sustain a double digit lead throughout the second half.
Not only that, but Dayton looked to change their style of play, building off what they did against Davidson by playing faster and taking early shots if those shots provided open looks at the basket. Jalen Crutcher continued his killer instinct, not hesitating to drive to the hoop or pull up from three as soon as he saw an open look. The same went for Ibi Watson, who also took those same kind of threes, shooting 4-8 from the arch on the night.
This is exactly what the Flyers need to do to have the best chance of winning night in and night out. Dayton is at its best when they play small ball, but also when they play faster, taking shots when they first get good looks. It helps that their bench is able to provide meaningful minutes. With RJ Blakney coming back tonight and playing a few minutes again, I fully expect the Flyers to start improving and make a run toward the top 4 of the A10 standings. The final encouraging part was their ability to close out the game. Duquesne fouled Dayton late repeatedly to send the Flyers to the line. That strategy was all for naught, with Dayton able to knock down their freebies to seal the game and the 9 point victory.
Still, you can’t help to think about the “what if”. Once considered to be automatic wins in the preseason, Dayton’s losses to La Salle and Fordham this season are as detrimental as expected. Having those wins would have resulted with the Flyers being 5-0 in conference play and 9-1 overall. If the Dayton team that showed up on Wednesday night continues to play at that high of a level for the rest of the season, Dayton should finish with a top 4 seed in the A10 tournament. Even though that is encouraging for the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes for an automatic bid, it is still hard to forget what could have been if the Flyers did not drop those two games early in conference play.
Dayton hits the floor again this Sunday at 4:30 EST against George Washington. They will be traveling to George Mason University’s campus for this game in Fairfax, VA, due to ongoing unrest in Washington D.C. The game will be on NBC Sports Network.