By Hal McCoy
Davidson, NC — That was not a message in a bottle the Dayton Flyers delivered Wednesday night. It was a message delivered with an electronic megaphone cranked up at full volume.
The Flyers, paying no attention to Davidson’s seven-game winning streak, 10-3 record and 7-0 record at home in Belk Arena, took apart Davidson arm-by-arm and leg-by-leg in a 72-59 romp
The message? The Flyers are a lean, mean basketball machine.
It was no contest once the ball was tossed in the air to start the game. The Flyers never trailed, never looked back, while easily winning their Atlantic 10 Conference opener.
And it was Dayton’s eighth straight victory and lifted its record to 11-2.
The Flyers were so aggressive it looked as if there were five guys named Charles Atlas on the floor. Most of the night it was one-and-done for Davidson.
And the Flyers grabbed Davidson’s 33 missed shots and flew down the floor like a gusty wind on fast breaks. They scored 16 points on fast breaks and 18 off turnovers, many coming after 12 steals.
And it was another night when DaRon Holmes II struggled because Davidson used stevedore/longshoremen defense on him, yanking everything on his body but his short pants.
Nevertheless, he led the Flyers with 18 points, but only three in the first half on a three-point play to open the game. On the reverse side, Kobe Elvis scored 14 in the first half on 6 for 7 shooting, but only three in the second half.
Nate Santos aided Elvis in the first half with nine points as the Flyers constructed a 36-21 lead. Santos finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought our guys were locked in and we understood that Davidson is a really good team,” said Flyers coach Anthony Grant on his post-game radio show with Larry Hansgen. “Our guys did a really good job of making it difficult for them and we were able to get out in transition to build a lead.”
With a quick glimpse at the stat sheet, it would appear that Enoch Cheeks and Javon Bennett contributed little.
Delve deeper. Cheeks only scored four points, but he snagged 10 rebounds and stole the ball four times. And he put clamps and handcuffs on Davidson’s Greg Huffman, one of its best scorers, stifling him to eight points.
Bennett scored only two points, but he had six assists, five in the first half, and three steals.
Cheeks received defensive help from everybody. Davidson’s five starters combined to score only 25 points.
“Cheeks was unbelievable, really impactful in a lot of different ways,” said Grant. “Javon Bennett also. He got his hands on balls, get pieces of balls, where we were able to get the ball.”
In fairness, Davidson was misssing David Skogman, its leading scorer, leading rebounder and best shooter. He was out with an injured foot. And nobody picked up the slack. The leading scorer was Bobby Durkin, who came off the bench to score 14. But he was 4 for 14 from the field, 4 for 11 on threes.
One facet of the game Grant wanted to see improvement was in rebounding. He saw it Wednesday.
Even though Davidson had two 6-foot-10ers around the basket, the Flyers outboarded Davidson, 36-29, and the 36 included eight offensive boards.
As close as Davidson got was within one, 8-7, early in the game. But the Flyers went on an 8-0 spurt. Issac Jack came of the bench to hit two straight baskets, both put-backs on his own misses and that put the Flyers up, 16-7.
It was 27-20 until the Flyers went on another spree, a 9-1 sprint to intermission that pushed the lead to 36-21. And Elvis played one-on-five, scoring all nine points.
And defense? Davidson’s would-be shooters saw more hands in their faces than if they were sitting in a dentist’s chair.
“With the way they run their offense, attacking the rim, we took a lot of that away from them,” said Grant. “That was a huge part of us being able to have success.”
Davidson put together several runs in the second half, but each time they could finally read the numbers on the backs of UD jerseys, the Flyers sprinted away again.
The most disheartening portion of the game for Davidson came late in the second half. Cheeks stole the ball, drove the floor and dunked. Then, immediately, Holmes stole the ball, drove the floor and dunked, his third dunk of the game. It was 65-47 and Davidson was done.
“The second half, they had some runs,” said Grant. “When you see the ball go in, it gives you energy. That happened for them a few times, but I thought our guys did a good job of maintaining their composure. We were able to answer their runs and we closed well.
There could be no better closures than the back-to-back steals and dunks of Cheeks and Holmes.
“We shared the ball and did a lot of good things today and I’m proud of the way our guys understood that this was the start of conference play,” said Grant. “You start on the road and it’s always going to be a tough grind-it-out game and our guys did a really good job of understanding that.”
The Flyers didn’t have to grind this one out. The grinding was felt by Davidson as the Flyers put the Wildcats through a meat grinder.
Round Two of UD’s Atlantic 10 schedule is Sunday afternoon in UD Arena against Massachusetts, a team that stunned Duquesne Wednesday, 80-61.