“In the first half they had success shooting the ball from everywhere — three-point line, at the rim, offensive rebounding, getting to the free throw line,” said Anthony Grant. “We just had to have a more focused effort on defense the second half.” And that’s what happened in a Flyers win over Akron.
DAYTON – University of Dayton basketball coach Anthony Grant didn’t have regular starters Xeyrius Williams (back spasms) and Trey Landers (ankle sprain) Saturday night at UD Arena.
And Grant didn’t have leading scorer Darrell Davis in the first half, even though he was dressed and in the lineup. He didn’t show up for the first 20 minutes, a mere apparition running around the floor and doing a whole lot of nothing — three shots, no points from a guy averaging 22 points a game.
That left Grant with seven scholarship players to face the University of Akron and the Zips zipped into town with a 2-and-0 record. It was like a centipede with four legs snipped off.
And how did UD’s new coach feel about that?
“I just take it for what it is,” said Grant. “To be honest, I just felt like if we played the way we are capable of playing we would win the game with what we have. I don’t know that I’ll ever walk into a game when we have enough guys suit up to play a game that we don’t have a chance to win. It is what it is and you try to control what you can control.”
There were segments of the game where it didn’t look as if Grant could control this one, but the Flyers put on a late sprint to the final buzzer, led by Josh Cunningham, to pull out a 73-60 win.
Cunningham scored 20 points and hooked, snatched and grabbed 16 rebounds. He scored 11 of UD’s final 13 points in the game’s final 7 ½ minutes.
And Darrell Davis came around in the second half with an early spurt that turned things around for the staggering Flyers.
Akron jumped to a 7-0 lead before UD realized Xeyrius Williams and Trey Landers were not there to help. Then the Flyers went on a 13-2 run that gave them a 13-9 lead with 12 ½ minutes left in the first half.
Now it was Akron’s turn to display their sprint-out ability. With UD leading, 25-24, Akron went on a 13-0 tear for a 37-30 lead before Matei Svoboda hit a three just before the half.
This game of ‘runs’ continued early in the second half when Davis came alive. He scored eight quick points as UD started the second half with a 13-0 blitz to open the second half.
That gave the Flyers a 45-37 lead, a lead they guarded and built upon the rest of the way.
With Williams and Landers missing, Cunningham and Darrell Davis (in the second half) were not the only Flyers to step forward.
Freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo played 23 minutes and scored 12 points (five of six from the floor) , blocked a couple of shots and contributed two steals. Freshman Mantei Svoboda played 25 minutes and contributed nine points, four rebounds and two assists. Freshman Jordan Davis played 34 minutes and scored a career-best 14 points and two assists.
The big adjustment, though, came on the defensive end in the second half, at the insistence of coach Grant.
“I told the team after the game I was really proud of the effort we gave in the second half,” said Grant. “It was a Tale of Two Halves. We didn’t have the effort and the energy in the first half that it takes for us to be able to win. The challenge at halftime was to come out defensively.”
And that’s what happened. It doesn’t get any better defensively than to hold the opponent to zero to start the second half while you are scoring 13.
After shooting 14 for 28 (50 per cent) in the first half and 5 for 12 (42 per cent) from the three-point line in the first half, Akron was shut off like a winter spigot in the second half. The Zips went 8 for 22 (36 per cent) and 1 for 8 from three (13 per cent) in the second half. They scored only 23 second-half points.
“In the first half they had success shooting the ball from everywhere — three-point line, at the rim, offensive rebounding, getting to the free throw line,” said Grant. “We just had to have a more focused effort on defense the second half.”
Mission accomplished with medals for everybody on the defensive end, especially for Cunningham. In addition to scoring 20 and snagging 16 rebounds, Cunningham drew the short straw on defense.
“Our defense also created offense for us in the second half,” said Grant. “It was lesson for our team five games into the season (3-and-2). We have to grow to that, we have to understand we have to establish an identity as to how we are going to play. And it always starts at the defensive end.
Cunningham was assigned to put a muzzle and a silencer on Akron’s point-scoring machine, 6-foot-6 sophomore Daniel Utomi, scorer of 26 and 20 in Akron’s first two games.
Utomi had 11 at halftime and eight in the final 20 minutes for 19, but was unable to carry the Zips. Cunningham, basically an inside player, had a tough assignment because Utomi scores from all over the zip code, all over the area code. When he scored 26 against University of Tennessee-Martin, he had eight three-pointers in 11 attempts.
“Cunningham was a man’s man throughout the game,” said Grant. “You look at his numbers and they tell part of the story. We also challenged him defensively to guard their leading scorer, a guy averaging 23 points a game and had a game making eight three-pointers by himself.
“He was able to get free in the first half but in the second half Josh did a great job of limiting his opportunities, making him work for everything he got. And I can’t say enough about what his toughness and leadership means to this team,” Grant added.
Of the team’s second half revival, Cunningham said, “We knew that in order for us to win we had to come out stronger in the second half than we did in the first half. We came out in the second half, threw the first punches and we were aggressive from the git-go and didn’t let them come back, didn’t let them have any momentum.”
Jordan Davis, making his first start, hit five of nine shots and four of seven from the three-point line en route to his 14 points.
“We just played harder in the second half and focused on the little things, do our jobs and play harder,” said the 6-2 guard from Irmo, S.C., who scored 12 of his 14 in the second half.
Antetokounmpo, the 6-10 freshman from Athens, Greece, continues to show flashes of brilliance and future super stardom. In one short stretch, he blocked a shot. He stuffed home a slam dunk. He grabbed a rebound dribbled from the south entrance to the north entrance of UD Arena for an unassisted basket.
“Coach told us at halftime we just had to go out there and play like it was our last game,” said the Greek Freak II, a guy who has tons of games remaining as he develops. “We only had seven guys tonight, but that didn’t change our mentality other than to try to stay out of foul trouble.
“Darrel Davis and Jordan Davis started hitting threes in the second half gave us energy and that changed the game,” he said.
The Flyers return to UD Arena Wednesday night to play Auburn and Grant said Xeyrius Williams and Trey Landers are day-to-day in the recovery process.