Flyers overcome early struggles to beat Saint Joseph’s

By HAL McCOY

The University of Dayton Flyers basketball team answered three poignant questions about itself Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia — questions they hoped they’d never have to confront.

—Can they win a game when they played relatively poorly against a bad team?

Yes.

—Can they win a game when superstar Obi Toppin becomes a sideline spectator, nearly all of the second half, with four fouls?

Yes.

—Can they win a game when point guard Jalen Crutcher has a rare day full of struggles?
Yes.

The Flyers overcame all three of those dilemmas to post an 80-67 victory over Saint Joseph’s, a team that began the game with a 3-and-10 record.

And it is a team that lost a game to Temple, 108-61, and lost its last game to Richmond, 84-52, In addition, the Hawks lost games to Old Dominion, Chicago Loyola, Lafayette, Missouri State and Towson State.

The Flyers, though, had a demon to exorcise. They hadn’t won a game in Hagan Arena in 20 years — nine losses in a row with their last win in Hagan coming in 2000.

And for a half and the first couple of minutes of the second half it looked as if that demon was going to stick another pitchfork into the Flyers.
It was 33-33 at halftime. And the Hawks outscored the Flyers, 9-2, to start the second half and snatched a 42-35 lead.

To get that lead, Ryan Daly scored underneath and was fouled by Toppin, his third foul.

Daly was a needle in the posterior all afternoon to the Flyers. He averages 17 shots a game and 19.8 points. On this day, he flipped in a game-high 22 points.

The Flyers, though, put on an 11-1 run to take a 46-43 lead and UD appeared on its way to the expected runaway victory.

That’s when Toppin picked up his fourth foul with 14:41 left in the game — time for the Flyers to show what they can do without him, because he did not appear again until three minutes were left in the game.

And they did right well, thank you, thanks to Ibi Watson and Trey Landers.

UD led, 50-49, with 10 minutes left. Landers and Jalen Crutcher hit threes to give the Flyers a 56-49 lead.

Then it was Watson, Watson and more Watson. He scored UD’s next 13 points to keep the Flyers in front, 69-62.

The finishing act was furnished by Ryan Mikesell, Trey Landers and Toppin.

Mikesell, who opened the game by scoring UD’s first eight points, hit two free throws, and finished with 18 points.

Landers buried a three, his career-best fourth trey (after all, his first name is Trey), en route to 18 points and nine rebounds.

Toppin returned to the game with three minutes left and quickly enacted a reverse dunk, his only dunk of the game, to give the Flyers a 76-64 lead with 1:50 left.

That sealed the deal, lifting the 20th-ranked Flyers to 13-and-2, 2-and-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Despite the early struggle, UD won its 12th game this season by double digits.

Toppin scored 15 on six of eight shooting while playing barely half the game, 21 minutes.

Point guard Jalen Crutcher scored 10 points, but was 4 for 15 from the field, 1 for 6 from three with several missed layups. Where did he make it up? He had 10 assists.

In the first half, the Flyers offense was lethargic and without intensity. Saint Joseph’s collapsed two and three defenders on Toppin and the Flyers fired away from three-point land, but fired blanks, hitting only 4 of 17. And they made only 12 of 34 shots overall to leave the floor tied at 33.

They were much more Flyer-like in the second half — 15 for 27, 6 of 12 from three. For the game UD made 17 of 18 free throws while the home-shooting Hawks made only 13 of 22.

“Our team really responded because we thought Saint Joseph’s was a dangerous team,” UD coach Anthony Grant told play-by-play broadcaster Larry Hansgen after the game. “They have really good talent and Ryan Daly (22 points) is one of the more explosive players offensively in our conference.

“We had to figure this game out and I thought our team, overall, did a really good job of making the adjustments we had to make, both offensively and defensively.

“We rushed some of our threes in the first half,” he added. “They had a game plan to pack the lane and put two and three guys on Obi and invited us to take early contested shots and we took the bait a little bit.”

The Flyers made that adjustment for the second half and Landers and Watson took command.

Of the second half, Grant said, “They made four of their first five shots (to take a 42-37 lead), but after that our guys locked in defensively. We made some adjustments and it proved to be beneficial for us.”

Of finally winning a game in Hagan Arena after two decades of futility, Grant said, “I’m glad we were able to have a lot of happy Flyer fans able to leave this arena who hadn’t seen the Dayton Flyers win a game here in a long time. Instead of hearing our fans say, ‘Congratulations. great game,’
our players heard them say, ‘Thank you.’”

The Flyers return to UD Arena Saturday afternoon for their third A-10 game, this one against Massachusetts, another team the Flyers are expected to dominate.

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