By HAL McCOY
On this night, the St. Louis Gateway Arch couldn’t have scored on the Dayton Flyers.
CBS/Sports broadcasters Brent Stover and Bob Wenzel jabbered on-and-on-and on about UD’s defense in the first half Tuesday night at the Chaifetz Arena.
They seemed amazed that the strangling UD defense contested every shot, forced bad shots and made Saint Louis University’s Billikens resemble mere kittens.
The Flyers won, as expected, by 85-63, staying in high-step with Virginia Commonwealth atop the Atlantic 10 Conference at 11-and-2.
With just under 12 minutes left, UD led by 36 points at 64-28 and Saint Louis was shooting 26 percent.
For sure, the Billikens (9-and-17 and 4-and-9 in the Atlantic 10) are not very good. But they had won three of their previous four and four straight at home.
But this one was over before any fan finished their first hot dog, just 11 minutes into the game when the Flyers led, 18-4. The Flyers hit seven of their first 12 shots and when UD hit 18 it came after five straight Saint Louis turnovers and the Billikens were 2 for 15 on their home court.
Perhaps the biggest factor in this Mississippi Mayhem was the chance for Josh Cunningham to get his feet wet. And he didn’t do it in the Mississippi River. He did it on the floor.
After missing 21 games, the 6-foot-10 transfer from Bradley University returned Friday against Rhode Island and played only two minutes because he drew four quick fouls. His statistical line read: 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0.
On Tuesday he played 23 minutes and scored 12 points on four of five shooting and four of four from the foul line. And he added four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
“He is very efficient around the basket,” said coach Archie Miller. “He has a unique way of catching the ball around the basket and getting off his shots.”
And the Flyers were masterful despite a less-than-healthy Scoochie Smith, who missed the pre-game shoot-around due to flu-like symptoms.
He started, but played only 22 minutes, the fewest this season. But he still scored 10 points and dished five assists.
Charles Cooke led the way, recovering his missing shooting eye by going 7 for 9, four for four on three-pointers, all in the three-pointers in the first half, on his way to a team-high 18 points. And he contributed seven rebounds and three assists.
Even with Scoochie slowed by illness, the Flyers shared the basketball as if they were all UNICEF volunteers.
Of their first 22 baskets, 21 came with assists.
The Flyers were a perfect machine for 32 minutes and, as Miller said, “Things got a little sloppy for us in the last eight minutes. But our pressure defense in the first half was the key to the game.”
The Flyers, the A-10’s most efficient defensive aggregation, led at halftime 41-17. They hit 14 of 23 first-half shots (61 percent) and were five of eight from three-point distance. And they were 8 for 8 from the foul line.
Meanwhile, the frustrated Billikens were 8 of 29 (24 percent) in the first half and 1 for 9 from three.
As Miller said, the final eight minutes were sloppy, but that didn’t stop seldom-used Trey Landers from coming off the bench late in the game to score five points, hitting both his field goal attempts, in only seven minutes.
And Xeyrius Williams, who hit two mammoth three-pointers in the last 18 seconds at Rhode Island Friday to push the Flyers to victory, got his first start of the season Tuesday.
UD’s season worksheet is now 20-and-5, ensuring the Flyers of their fourth straight 20-win season and they have won 47 of their last 59 A-10 games.
And it was the senior class’s 98th victory over the past four years, setting a school record.
“Those seniors (Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis) have been the cornerstone for the resurgence of the program,” said Miller. “They do nothing but play to win. In the last four years not one of them has ever complained about shots or minutes. They’ve set a very, very high standard.”