By Hal McCoy
Dayton, OH. — The word was that the University of Dayton basketball team should be on the lookout Wednesday night for an Oakland University basketball team that was hard to handle and downright frightening.
After all, the Golden Grizzlies beat Xavier on X’s floor and held their own against Ohio State and Illinois.
Either the Flyers didn’t get the memo or coach Anthony Grant beat it into their heads not to take them with a couple of grains of salt.
The Flyers were downright nasty, extremely inhospitable while methodically tearing apart Oakland’s zone defense piece by piece by shattered piece, 91-67.
It was so convincing that the usually vociferous
Flyer Faithful sat on their hands most of the night in UD Arena.
And it was apropos that less than a week before Christmas the Flyers were led by their own Elf on the Shelf, Javon Bennett, 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, if he steps on the scales after a couple of Quarter Pounders with cheese from McDonald’s.
Bennett led the Flyers with 19 points and added nine assists and four rebounds. And the way he plays defense, if he did it on the streets he would be arrested for assault and battery.
The Little Big Man hit 7 pf 10 shots, 5 of 8 from beyond the three-point line. He was one of five Flyers in double figures — Koby Brea 17, Kobe Elvis 14, Nate Santos 13 and DaRon Holmes II 10
Holmes was basically a non-factor, scoring most of his points late when the game was long decided. But scoring 10 and grabbing eight rebounds was achieved after Holmes spent Sunday overnight in a hospital with a stomach virus.
The Flyers (9-2) gave Oakland gastritis while shredding the Golden Grizzlies (6-7) by 24 points. Dominating teams is important. . .don’t just win, annihilate them.
“Our coaches are emphasizing that right now, that we have to not only beat teams, but we have to dominate,” said Brea.
That’s because of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), the measuring stick used to pick at-large teams for the tournament. Margins of victory count. The Flyers are steadily climbing in the NET rankings. They were 29th before they yanked apart Oakland and should snuggle a little higher.
UD coach Anthony Grant, not one to run up scores, acknowledged that what Brea said about dominance is a necessary evil.
“Yeah, it’s important,” he said. “Yeah, we think about it. That’s just college basketball, college sports in general. Those metrics matter. Call it what you want, it is just the reality that we’re in. We didn’t make it what it is, but we have to play by those rules.”
While scoring 17, Brea, the swish-master who makes threes from everywhere but the balcony seats, hit five of eight on this night. For the season he is 36 for 68, 52.9% from threes, making him one of the nation’s top three-point snipers.
“I think he’s one of the best shooters in the country,” said Bennett. “Whenever he shoots, we expect it to go in.”
Said Grant, “Koby, to me, has always been one of the best in the country. That’s something we saw early and he has great confidence right now. He works real hard at it.”
So does every occupant of a UD Arena seat have confidence in Brea. A buzz erupts when the basketball departs Brea’s right fingers.
And Bennett? He is a stand-in that despite his stature stands tall as the replacement at point-guard for Malachi Smith, out for the season.
Bennett transferred in from Merrimack College this year. His old team played at Ohio State earlier this year and got waxed. Coach Joe Gallo said, “We’re without our point guard. He transferred out (to Dayton).”
When Bennett was told what his old coach said, he smiled and said, “Oh yeah? First time I heard that. I love that.”
And the Flyers love him.
“From the first day I arrived last summer the players treated like I belonged,” said Bennett. “They accepted me right away.”
And Grant more than accepts Bennett.
“He is finding a lot of different ways to impact a game,” he said. “Some nights it is a high number of assists, other nights it’s steals. The way he can be disruptive defensively. . .tonight he did all of that and also we saw the ball go in for him. Yeah, he has done a great job.”
It isn’t often a college team employs a full-game zone defense, something Oakland does and did Wednesday.
“This was tough preparation in terms of a very different defense than any team we’ve played this year, with the way that they defend,” said Grant. “Their zone is unique. Our guys did a great job of understanding where we could take advantage of some of the opportunies that were presented.”
Long-range marksmanship is one way to beat it and Brea’s eyes brightened when asked about it, even though he didn’t come off the bench until 10:26 was left in the half.
Asked if it was difficult to prepare for the zone, Brea said, “No, not at all. Wasn’t hard. We were just surprised they stayed with it the entire game even though they weren’t successful with it.”
One of the things Oakland’s zone produces is turnovers. . .usually. Not this night. The Flyers committed an unheard of low of two.
“Their zone is different in that it can create turnovers, so it is something we emphasized to the guys that we had to make sure with our passes and our spacing so we took good care of the ball,” said Grant. “If you’ve watched Oakland play, they force turnovers.”
Not on this night.
Nor did they bury many threes, something they also do adeptly. Usually. Again, not on this night. While the Flyers made 18 of 34, Oakland connected only 8 times on 25 tries, thanks to lock down ‘D’ by Bennett, Brea, Enoch Cheeks and Nate Santos.
Oakland had only one player in double figures, a highly talented Trey Townsend with 21. The Flyers? They passed it around — the scoring (five in double digits) and assist (26 on 31 baskets).
The Flyers started slowly and led gy 11-9 early-on. But Berea entered the game and hit back-to-back threes and the Flyers were off and running, running up a 46-28 halftime lead.
UD extended its lead to 23 early in the second half, 53-30, but a 10-0 Oakland run cut it to 53-40.
It was time for the Fluers to open it back up and they did — a 17-7 run that opened it to 70-47 and it was run out the clock time.