Josh Cunningham is like a Jame Bond villain who just won’t go away. When the game began he had set a UD record over the last three games with 22 straight field goals without a miss. The Flyers used him to force an overtime, and gain a win Saturday, over Georgia State.
DAYTON — As they waited to speak to a small gaggle of writers in the media interview room, Josh Cunningham and Darrell Davis were bent over a table, their heads nearly bumping as they read the box score.
They whispered and giggled and shook their heads.
They were reading the statistics put up by Josh Cunningham after he led the University of Dayton basketball team to an 88-83 overtime victory over Georgia State.
That’s Georgia State, not Georgia Tech, even though both schools are in Atlanta. But don’t laugh. Georgia State beat Georgia Tech this year in a pre-season exhibition.
Cunningham’s numbers were not funny to Georgia State, coached by Dayton Chaminade-Julienne/Miami University (of Ohio) graduate Ron Hunter.
How about 29 points? How about 18 rebounds? How about seven offensive rebounds? How about 13 free throws made and 17 free throws taken? How about eight shot made and nine shots taken?
Cunningham is like a Jame Bond villain who just won’t go away. When the game began he had set a UD record over the last three games with 22 straight field goals without a miss.
On Saturday he missed his first shot, then made eight straight. Over his last four games he is 31 for 33 from the field.
That’s because the paint right under the basket is his and his alone and he is as serious under there as a stray bullet. When his teammates get him the ball down deep, it is a basket or a walk to the foul line.
And he kept dropping in points like a kid dropping quarters into his piggy bank down the stretch and into overtime.
The Flyers led 71-70 when Cunningham tipped in a missed shot with 1:23 left in regulation. With the score tied, 73-73, Cunningham dropped in two free throws with 28 seconds left.
Georgia State super stud D’Marcus Simonds then stood stationary near mid-court — dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, watching coach Hunter at the sidelines. When Hunter dropped the green flag, Simonds drove for the basket and tied it 75-75 with two seconds left. Simonds, an active sophomore who makes regular scoring sorties in the 30s, scored 21 but earned each and every one. He sat out 13 minutes with foul trouble and didn’t score his first basket until nine minutes were left in the first half.
Cunningham continued his game-under-my-control in the overtime. He scored the first basket on a dunk after receiving a no-look pass from point guard John Crosby. Crosby had a dream game for a point guard with seven assists, no turnovers and 11 points on five of nine shooting.
Then Cunningham added two free throws. And with 12 seconds left and the Flyers up by three, Cunningham grabbed a missed Georgia State shot, was fouled, and made two more free throws to put a ribbon with a big red and blue bow on this one.
Cunningham played 43 of the 45 minutes and the only thing Darrell Davis beat him with was minutes played — 44 of the 45. Davis backed Cunningham with 21 points and was 5 of 13 from the field with all 13 of his shots coming from behind the three-point line.
As they read the statistical sheet, Cunningham looked at Davis and said with a grin, “I can shoot threes as good as you can if I took them.”
UD coach Anthony Grant is fully content to have Cunningham roaming the lane like a hungry grizzly bear just coming out of hibernation.
“The only thing that comes to my mind about Cunningham is his competitiveness,” said Grant. “His consistency is a great example to all the guys on our team, especially the younger guys. Any young man who watches Josh compete, his maturity on the floor and the way he carries himself is really what he is all about and is a great example. He is as good a competitor as I’ve ever been around.
“He made a lot of big plays for us, got a lot of big rebounds and made some plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” Grant added.
“They threw a lot of defenses at us — from a 2-3 match-up zone, a 1-3-1 zone, a 3-2 match-up zone and they kept us thinking and off-balance and put us in some lulls,” Grant added.
Of Crosby handling the offense with seven assists and no turnovers, Grant said, “That was so great to see that. He did a great job of running our team and we need him to do that.”
Asked if it was fun looking at Saturday’s stat sheet and what did he look at first, Cunningham said, “Just look at how many rebounds we got (40 to Georgia State’s 30) and how many times we got to the free throw line (26 for 38), that was amazing.
And was it nerve-wracking down the stretch when he constantly set up at the foul line with most of the 13,005 fans quiet and holding their breaths, Cunningham smiled broadly and said, “It isn’t nerve-wracking because we do it so much in practice. You just take your time and knock it down. Yeah, it gets quiet, but it’s quiet in practice, too.
Actually, Cunningham had a double-double by halftime, 15 points and 13 rebounds.
And with 31 baskets in 33 shots over the past four games, about eight shots a game, Cunningham was asked if the ball shouldn’t be in his hands more often.
“Everybody was hitting shots tonight and everybody was contributing,” he said. “But with their zones, the middle was wide open for me and for the guards going down the middle. Basically for me tonight, it was go to the basket and score or get fouled. I know my teammates are going to get me the ball in the right spots.”
Off the floor, Cunningham seems so easy-going he couldn’t kill time. On the floor, though, he is a Natural Born Killer.