The Flyers avenge an earlier defeat to St. Louis in front of a packed house…with balanced scoring, and an in-your-face effort on the boards.
And the Flyers slipped into their road red britches instead of their home whites in celebration of ‘red-out’ day in UD Arnea.
When last seen playing Saint Louis University 18 days ago under the Gateway Arch, the Flyers walked off the court with two black eyes, a bloody nose and a 73-60 defeat.
The Billikens were brutal on the backboards, like the brute on the beach who kicks sand in the face of the 150-pound weakling.
Saint Louis snagged 41 rebounds, 19 off the offensive boards, and scored 24 points on stick-backs.
That wasn’t surprising. Saint Louis is the leading rebounding team in the Atlantic 10 and is the only team in the league with two players in the top five in rebounding — Hasahn French with 8.7 rebounds per game and Jordan Goodwin with seven rebounds per game.
So if the Flyers were to win this game at stuffed-to-the-beams UD Arena, they had to take away the Mr. Clean and the Windex from the Billikens.
And that they did, enabling them to post an important 70-62 victory. It kept the Flyers in the top three in the A-10 and they need to finish in the top four to earn a double bye in the conference tournament.
The Flyers out-rebounded Saint Louis, 33-30, only the fourth time all season the Billikens have been out-rebounded. They had nine offensive boards, but only turned them into four points while the Flyers had 12 points off offensive rebounds.
French had only three rebounds and Goodwin had six, but the rebounder du jour this day was Dayton’s Obi Toppin, who had his fifth double-double of the season with 10 rebounds and 11 points.
And the Billikens’ leading scorer, Columbus native Javon Bess, was held to six points, nine under his team-leading average, on 2 for 13 shooting, 0 for 5 from three.
Meanwhile, the Flyers bounced around court with balance beam scoring, all five starters close to double figures — Jalen Crutcher 17, Josh Cunningham 13, Ryan Mikesell 12, Toppin 11 and Jordan Davis 9.
And along the way, Toppin produced a dunk, his 66th this season to tie Chris Wright for the one-season school record.
“I wanted to get the record here and I tried to get it at the end of the game,” said Toppin. “Yeah, it’s an honor to tie the record. I heard him on a radio interview say he was a better dunker. I don’t think so. We’ll see.”
Said Crutcher about the rebounding challenge, “Coach has been on us about that. The last game we played them they outrebounded us but today they only got four points off second chances, so it was good.”
Toppin, who showed the Billikens his back side most of the day while sweeping the boards, smiled and said, “The first time we played them they outrebounded us ridiculously. Offensive rebounds and second-shot points was ridiculous, so we knew coming into this game that was our No. 1 priority. We did it and got the win.”
And what is a UD basketball game without the Flyers falling behind by 10 or more points early on. It was no different Saturday. They were in arrears, 19-9, with six minutes left in the half.
Saint Louis prefers a slow pace, a half-court game, and milks the clock to the last few seconds before taking a shot.
“Young people attribute playing well to scoring,” said Grant. “Sometimes you get disappointed when you don’t see the ball go in. For us to be able maintain our defensive edge, our rebounding and get defensive stops with our low offensive production show our character. This was a character game for us.
From the 19-9 deficit, the Flyers outscored Saint Louis 13-2 the rest of the half and Crutcher’s three-point shot at the buzzer gave UD a 22-21 halftime edge.
“That was my first basket of the game so it felt good, gave us the lead and, yeah, felt real good,” said Crutcher.
In last week’s win over Davidson, Crutcher was 2 for 10 and 0 for 5 from three. In the first game against Saint Louis he was 5 for 15 and 1 for 6 from three.
After hitting that late three for three halftime points, Crutcher scored 14 in the second half and finished 6 for 12 and made four of eight threes.
“We’ve been working on my shot, especially before this game,” said Crutcher. “The coaches were telling me to get my feet set and centered forward the rim. That’s what I was trying to do and I made some shots today.”
Of Crutcher’s off-again, on-again shooting, Grant said, “Jalen is one of those guys who is mentally tough. He doesn’t live and die on his last shot, whether it went in or not. He plays with a great level of confidence and a great level of poise. He can play through mistakes.
The game stayed in an either-way situation for the early going in the secod half and the Flyers led, 33-32, with 16 minutes left.
Jordan Davis hit a three and Crutcher hit a three and the Flyers bounced ahwd 39-32. Whilte the Billikens stayed relatively close the rest of the way, the Flyers were abie to maintain control the rest of the way.
“We came out in the second half and pretty much limited their opportunities to do what they do, which is attack the glass, a lot of success in the paint.”
Holding Bess to 10 points below his average was a team defensive stranglehold, several players taking turns staring him eye-to-eye.
“We threw a lot of different guys at him,” said Grant. “He is a heck of a player and a really big-time competitor. Our guys did a good job of understanding how important he is to their team and limited his opportunities.”
Saint Louis could have pulled into a tie with Dayton with a win, but instead the Flyers knocked the Billikens down a couple of pegs. The Flyers are 10-4 in Atlantic 10 play and Saint Louis, picked as the pre-season favorite to win the league, fell to 8-6.
“The lesson we learned from that first game loss at St. Louis was the physicality we needed to bring to this game,” said Grant. “We needed toughness to come out on the winning end and today our guys really did that from the beginning of the game.”
Yes, the Flyers slipped into their big boy pants for this one, even if they were red instead of the usual white.
Said Crutcher, “I like the red uniforms. We don’t often lose when we wear ‘em. I hope we wear ‘em Tuesday night at Massachusetts.”