By Hal McCoy
Just when it looked as if the University of Dayton basketball team would be in a season-long deep freeze, they went to Florida and thawed out.
The Flyers, losers of three straight to mediocre mid-major teams, scored a major upset on Thanksgiving Day in the ESPN Events Invitational Tournament in Orlando, Fla.
Executing everything to perfection, the Flyers executed Miami (Fla.), 76-60. The inexperience Flyers all played like four-year veterans in totally mesmerizing the Hurricanes, who came in with a 3-and-1 record.
A furious and frustrating defense forced Miami completely out of its game.
There were so many factors that led to this turnaround:
—The crowd. There were so many UD fans in attendance, making so much noise, it sounded like a game in UD Arena.
—The nose-to-nose pressure defense forced Miami to play beyond the arc and the Hurricanes were 4 for 20 from three.
—Meanwhile, the Flyers came in shooting 23 per cent from three, but on this day they were William Tell accurate, 11 for 19.
—Elijah Weaver made four of those threes, all in the second half and all 14 of his points came in the second half.
—The two true freshman, DeRon Holmes II and Malachi Smith, were the center piece of this astounding victory.
Holmes dominated the real estate around the rim, particularly in the first half when the Flyers led, 36-25. He finished with 15 points in what might be his coming out party.
Smith, who runs the floor like the Tazmanian Devil, drove to the basket with reckless abandon and scored 14. He didn’t miss a shot, didn’t commit a turnover, produced seven assist and even snagged six rebounds and stole the ball twice. All in 32 points.
Mustapha Amzil came off the bench and contributed 11 points, plus the Flyers received key contributions from Koby Brea, Greer III. . .just about everybody n one facet or the other.
In addition to hitting 11 of 19 from three, the Flyers were 27 for 46 overall.
The Flyers built a 30-18 lead late in the first half and led at intermission, 36-25.
Miami scored the first six points of the second half, to pull within five points, but Smith scored on a goal-tending drive and Weaver hit back-to-back threes that pushed the lead back to 44-31.
And the Flyers glided home from there.
Coach Anthony Grant used 11 players and they all played as one.
“That is something that we thought could be the strength of our team is our depth,” Grant told broadcaster Larry Hansgen on the post-game show. “We have good talent and we have to get that talent to understand their roles and to believe in their roles, to understand that they can thrive and succeed in those roles. And that will help our team be successful.
“Everybody came out today to do what they could do to help the team,” he added. “When we can do that on a consistent basis we have a chance to become a good team.”
On this day, on Thanksgiving Day, the Flyers did not play like turkeys, which is what they did in losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay, all in UD Arena.
“We talked about it pre-game, basketball is a game of habits,” said Grant. “You have to build the right habits if you want to be able to have success. It is great to get a win today, to re-enforce to our young people what it takes to be a success in college basketball. It was a good first step.”
If the Flyers can make a habit of playing the way they played Thursday, there will be no more Lowells, no more Lipscombs and no more Peays.