By HAL McCOY
The University of Dayton won one and lost one Tuesday afternoon in the Tipoff Marathon in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
And the loss may be much bigger than the win, may have large repercussions down the road.
The Flyers came from behind to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide, 77-72, a road victory that shines brightly on their strength-of-schedule resume.
THE LOSS, THOUGH, CAME with four seconds left in the game. Josh Cunningham, the Flyers’ only big man, slam-dunked a game-clinching basket off a fast break pass from Scoochie Smith.
But an Alabama player undercut the 6-foot-7 sophomore transfer from Bradley as he came down. And he came down hard on his ankle. His screams of pain could be heard through the TV microphones. And there may be an injury to his knee, too.
After the game, UD coach Archie Miller painted a dim picture by saying, “Concern is with both Josh’s knee and his ankle, or lower leg area. It’s uncertain what it is exactly, but we could be looking at being without him for some time.”
And Alabama coach Avery Johnson tweeted, “I hope Josh Cunningham is going to be OK. That was a tough fall. I told coach Miller we are praying for him.”
HIS LOSS, IF THE INJURY is serious — and it appeared to be very serious — will have implications for the immediate future for the Flyers, already missing their other big man, Kendall Pollard.
Cunningham was strapped with two fouls early in the game and only played two minutes without scoring as the Flyers fell behind, 36-31 at the half. But he barged back in the second half to make five of six shots and scored 12 points.
The game was as ugly as a pug, something normal for November basketball.
The Flyers won this one in spite of themselves.
They were outrebounded 48-28 and gave up 18 offensive rebounds. Alabama constantly missed shots, grabbed rebounds, and shot again. And again.
And the Flyers shot free throws as if Alabama moved the foul line back five feet. They made only 20 of 33. Toss in 11 turnovers and UD was fortunate to walk off the floor with a win.
BECAUSE OF CUNNINGHAM’S INJURY, there was no post-game euphoria on the floor. The Flyers calmly walked back to their dressing quarters in a somber mood.
Nevertheless, the Southeastern Conference probably wants to avoid the Flyers like the Zika virus. UD has won 14 of their last 17 against the SEC, including five straight. They beat Alabama in UD Arena last year, 80-48. The Tide remembered that like the bright elephants they are. But they couldn’t avenge it.
In addition to their success against the SEC, the Flyers are 31-12 over the last five season against power five conference teams.
Scoochie Smith led the Flyers with 20 points, despite a dull day at the foul line (3 for 7). Charles Cooke chipped in with 19, despite a slow start — one basket in the first 10 minutes. But his 10 rebounds helped mightily.
Sophomore Ryan Mikesell scored 12 on 4 of 5 shooting and hit the biggest basket of the game.
THE FLYERS DIDN’T LEAD IN THE second half until Cooke muscled down the lane for a layup with seven minutes left to give the Flyers a 54-53 lead.
And it stayed tighter than a shirt collar two sizes small. The Flyers led, 65-64, when Mikesell bottomed out a three from the left corner to give UD a 68-64 lead with a minute-and-a-half to go.
Alabama crept to within two, 71-69 with 26 seconds left.
—:22.8: Cook made one of two free throws for a 72-69 lead.
—:14.9: After Alabama missed a three, Cooke made two free throws for a 74-69 lead.
—:04.4: After Alabama hit a three to cut it to 74-72, Smith hit Cunningham with a long pass and he went up for a thunderous jam-job and made it and was fouled. Because his injury incapacitated him, Mikesell shot his free throw to finish it a 77-72.
SO THE FLYERS ESCAPED WITH a victory to go 2-and-0, but didn’t escape a serious setback with Cunningham.
UD hosts nationally-ranked St. Marys Saturday in UD Arena — without Kendall Pollard and probably without Cunningham. Pollard, out with a thigh bruise, is expected back the following weekend when the Flyers are on the west coast to play in the Wooden Classic, with a possible match-up against UCLA.