Darrell Davis was by necessity a defensive star, and everything else just fell in place as UD reclaimed a share of first place in the A-10 with an impressive win over Richmond.
DAYTON — The University of Richmond’s training table breakfast must be Lucky Charms.
The Spiders came into UD Arena Thursday night with a 5-and-0 Atlantic 10 record and they owned three league road victories.
Two victories were aided and abetted by injuries to one of the other team’s best player — a two-point win at Davidson and a four-point win at Saint Joseph’s.
So they figured those Lucky Charms would work once again when they came to Dayton knowing they wouldn’t face Kyle Davis (ankle sprain), UD’s best defensive player and an all-around high-functioning operative.
They didn’t know another Davis awaited them.
Darrell Davis, a 6-foot-5 junior from Detroit, owns a reputation around the league as a three-point shooter. But on Thursday night, he turned his attention to defensive duties and his assignment was to thwart the scoring of Richmond’s ShawnDre’ Jones.
Jones, a 6-foot-0 senior guard from Houston, Tex., was Richmond’s second leading scorer, owner of a 16.8 average.
Double-D (Darrell Davis) put a double dose of defense on Jones, holding him to one point on 0 for 9 shooting. Holding Jones to nearly 16 point under his average was the difference in Dayton’s 75-59 victory.
The win drew the Flyers even with Richmond in the A-10 standings, tied for first at 5-and-1.
Davis came to Dayton with offense on his mind. Defense? That was for the other guys to play.
“In high school I scored the points and we had other guys to play defense,” Davis said with a wily smile.
The only defense he played before coming to UD was as a soccer goalie in elementary school.
Of his effort Thursday, Davis said, “Kyle is a great defender and I had to step in and play his role. I think I did a good job tonight.”
Good job? Holding a player averaging nearly 17 points a game to one free throw qualifies for a Certificate of Perfection.
Davis said he didn’t carry any burden on his shoulders playing Kyle’s role, no pressure-packed feelings.
“Not any more,” he said. “I’m kind of used to it. We haven’t had one game this year where we’ve had our full team so I’m used to it.”
Defense, though, didn’t come naturally.
“When I came here it was a big transition,” he said. “Defense was not the best thing for me but I kept working on it. And it came down to playing time. Coach (Archie Miller) made sure I knew that my playing time was based on defense as much as offense. He got my attention by saying, ‘If you want to keep playing, you better defend.’
“As of now, I can play both sides of the ball and I take pride in defense,” he added.
As a freshman, Davis was Deadeye Davis from the three-point line. He led the A-10 in three-point percentage at 45.2 per cent and hit five of seven against Oklahoma in an NCAA tournament defeat.
Then last year he couldn’t find the basket with a GPS, a guide dog and a Sherpa — 29.1 per cent.
“I was a big three-point shooter as a freshman because people didn’t know who I was,” he said. “They didn’t key into me a lot. But they paid attention to me last year.”
Davis also chipped in with 11 points on his Defend-the-Star night after the Flyers finally wrested the lead away from the Spiders at 8:13 of the first half.
A Xeyrius Williams three-pointer gave UD its first lead at 19-18. Then, during a 21-11 UD breakaway Davis hit two straight threes and the Flyers bottomed out five three-pointers in the final eight minutes for a 40-29 halftime lead.
The Flyers built that lead to 14 early in the second half, 45-31, with 17 1/2 minutes left. Then they went colder than an Eskimo in a tee-shirt and turnovers piled up.
The Spiders, led by leading scorer T.J. Cline (17.8 a game) and scorer of 35 against Dayton last season, went on a a 14-0 breakout as the Flyers went nearly seven minutes without a basket.
During that spell, the Flyer student section began serenading the Spiders with a song: ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ But the Spiders turned into tarantulas and climbed up the water spout to draw even at 47-47 with 9:21 left.
That’s when senior leader Charles Cooke took over with a key blocked shot, two steals and a couple of assists to go with his team-leading 17 points.
The Flyers sealed the lid in the final three minutes by making 13 of 14 free throws.
Richmond, normally an outstanding three-point team, was 1 for 12 in the first half and 2 for 20 for the game. The Spiders shot a league-leading 51.6 per cent in their first five A10 games, but the Flyers, with the big boost from Darrell Davis, held them to 41.8 per cent.
The only steady operative for Richmond was 6-foot-9 T.J. Cline, who scored 21 points on 8 of 16 shooting. But like his teammates, shots beyond the three-point line were a mystery. He was 1 for 5.
“T.J. Cline is one of the most impressive and difficult guys we’ve ever covered,” said Miller.
Of Darrell Davis, Miller said, “He turned the corner defensively as far back as last year. Part of the problem was that everyone identifies Darrell with shooting the ball. They don’t pay attention to him.
“He started to step up the grade last year and this year he has been very key to what we’re doing,” Miller added. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing with just Kyle and Charles out there (playing defense). We have another guy flying around out there doing a good job. About the last month he has said, ‘The heck with it, I’m going to buy into everything they ask me to do and I am going to trust that good things are going to happen.’ You are starting to see the guy rewarded with great attitude and great effort.”
Of Davis’s transformation, Miller said, “Darrell was like a lot of freshman coming in wet behind the ears with a lot of expectations. Think back to his freshman year when he was one of only seven guys we played and that’s a lot of pressure and he delivered. He made shots.
“And he was not nearly as competent as he is now defensively,” Miller added. “Over the course of his career he has fought the process and just letting it happen for him and do what he thinks he needs to do — not just score the ball. We saw a guy tonight playing effortlessly in terms of the way we ask him to play. Good things will continue to happen for him because he can really shoot. But now he is dialed in on the right things.”
One thing for certain, Davis made the ride back to Richmond one of contemplative misery for Shawndre’ Jones. And he’ll probably eat scrambled eggs instead of Lucky Charms for breakfast.