By HAL McCOY
The message was ear-splitting loud and as clear as mountain stream water — like a foghorn blaring on Narragansett Bay off the coast of Rhode Island: In the Atlantic 10 Conference, there is the University of Dayton and there are 13 other teams two or three levels below deck.
If there was a scary game on the schedule for the Flyers, it was Wednesday night’s game at the University of Rhode Island.
The Rams were 20-and-8 and desperately needed a signature victory to gain consideration for the NCAA tournament. The game was in enemy confines, a packed Ryan Center. And it was Senior Night for Rhode Island with rampant emotions.
It didn’t matter to the Dayton Flyers. It never seems to matter. The Flyers made it look like Freshman Night for the Rhodies.
Despite foul trouble that would sink nearly every team in the country, the No. 3-ranked Flyers put a 27-point crush on the Rams, 84-57.
It would have been easy for the Flyers to mail this one in. They already clinched the A-10 title and they’ve already clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Mailing in anything but their income tax returns isn’t in this team’s DNA.
*They want a perfect A-10 record and they are one win away from an 18-0 league record, a goal achievable Saturday when they play a bad George Washington team in UD Arena.
*They want to continue their winning streak, which reached 19 straight.
*They want to set the school record for most victories in a season and tied it Saturday with 28 and can set the record Saturday.
*They not only want to keep that No. 3 national ranking, they want to make it to No. 2 or No. 1.
It didn’t matter that Ryan Mikesell picked up his fourth personal foul early in the second half and played only 17 minutes.
It didn’t matter that Obi Toppin had three fouls at the half and played only 23 minutes.
It didn’t matter that Trey Landers picked up four fouls and still played 30 minutes.
It didn’t matter that Jalen Crutcher picked up three fouls early in the second half and still played 33 minutes.
It didn’t matter because URI couldn’t take advantage of all those fouls, making only 17 of 35 free throws.
It didn’t matter because UD’s Gorilla-glue defense held the Rams to 29 per cent shooting on their home court.
Toppin still scored 20 points, with three debilitating slam dunks to silence the crowd. Crutcher still scored 17 with five assists. Landers, the enforcer in a game that got chippy at times, scored 14 and snatched 14 rebounds.
“Landers was incredible,” said UD coach Anthony Grant. “There were some balls bouncing around and you see him going up and up and up. He kept grabbing ‘em, just kept getting ‘em. He wasn’t going to be denied on the glass.”
And while Toppin, Crutcher, Mikesell and Landers were all on the bench together at one time, the rest of the Flyers showed that UD’s second team might be the second best team in the A-10.
Ibi Watson, as usual, came off the bench to be a major contributor with seven points. And Jordy Tshimanga was a force during his 15 minutes of play, especially midway through the first half.
The Flyers led 18-14 with Toppin on the bench. After Mikesell hit a three, Tshimanga blocked a shot and hustled down the floor to score a layup. On the next possession he scored again during a 7-0 UD run that pushed the Flyers to a 25-14 lead.
In addition to the four timely points, Tshimanga grabbed seven rebounds, his best game of the season.
“Jordy did a good job,” said Grant. “During that time (he was in the game) the game was still in the balance. They cut our lead to three possessions and we were able to open it up and he had a big part of it with what he was able to do defensively and being able to get a couple of big scores for us.”
By halftime, Toppin, Crutcher and Landers were all in double figures and the Flyers were on top, 46-30. And they lead kept growing like weeds in an empty lot from there.
As usual, Rodney Chatman did his defensive assignment with stifling verve. Fatts Russell, averaging 19 points a game, was 2 for 13 and scored nine. Senior Cyril Langevine scored only six. Tyrese Martin, averaging 14, was 3 for 12 and scored six.
The Flyers were an add for Sherwin Williams in the paint, outscoring Rhode Island, 38-22, and outrebounded the Rams, 49-38.
In other words, it was a brutal beatdown.
There were five members of the Boston Celtics front office in attendance and it wouldn’t be surprising if they said, “We’ll take all the Flyers, even that kid who came off the bench late and hit a three (walk-on Christian Wilson).”
“We were really good defensively and our guys were able to take the challenge,” said Grant. “It was Senior Night for them and it is a team that is, in my opinion, an NCAA team.
“There was a lot of emotion in a sold out building and our guys accepted the challenge,” he added.
Don’t they always?