For 27 minutes, the Flyer and Explorers played ‘Put Dents in the Backboards,’ shooting as if they all were members of the Amalgamated Bricklayers Union, Local 937.
DAYTON — There are times when a fairly good basketball team plays down to the level of a not-so-good basketball team. And for three-fourths of a game Wednesday night in the University of Dayton Arena that was the exact scenario.
A very good University of Dayton basketball team got down and ugly with a below average La Salle University basketball team.
It ended in a rout, a 70-39 UD victory, but one had to be there to see how depressingly bad the play was by both teams early-on.
For 27 minutes, the Flyer and Explorers played ‘Put Dents in the Backboards,’ sho0ting as if they all were members of the Amalgamated Bricklayers Union, Local 937.
The Flyers led by five points despite making only 11 of 31 (1 of 8 from three) and only because La Salle made 10 of 34 (2 of 13 from three).
And the crowd? It was as quiet as if they were in a theatre watching the movie ‘Hoosiers.’
UD led, 31-26, with 13:35 left when they suddenly realized it was time to shine. They went on a 21-4 run to step out to a 52-30 lead and it was all’s well that ends well.
It ended in a love-in, a lovefest. It was the last home game of the season for the Flyers and after the game coach Anthony Grant grabbed the public address microphone and thanked the fans for their support by saying, “Thanks to you all, you are awesome.”
And it was Senior Night, a night to honor the two seniors on the roster — veteran inside player Josh Cunningham and four-year non-scholarship walk-on Jack Westerfield.
In a stunner in an important need-t-win game, Grant told Westerfield at 1 in the afternoon, “You’re starting tonight.” Westerfield rarely plays except in last-minute blowouts, let along starts.
He played the first 2 1/2 minutes and got off two shots, a missed lay-up and a missed three.
“Guess I have to work on my lay-ups and my threes,” he said sheepishly after the game.
And then he sat. And sat and sat and sat. He is used to it. But with four minutes left in the game and the Flyers in complete command, the student section began chanting, “We want Jack, we want Jack, we want Jack. Jack, Jack, Jack.”
With under two minutes left, Grant granted their pleads and put Westerfield back in. With 26 seconds left, Westerfield received a pass deep in the right corner and let fly. Swish. Three-pointer. Pandemonium. Suddenly the Arena sounded as if the Flyers just knocked off Duke and Kentucky on the same night.
“It was just awesome to get the start after four years of hard work,” he added. “I know I don’t play that much, but I don’t really care about that. Starting the last game was pretty special.”
And then there was Cunningham. Like the Flyers, his night started gimpishly. At halftime he had two points and two rebounds, not the way a senior captain wanted to play in his last home game.
But he ignited himself in the second half and finished with game-high 16 points and five rebounds.
When he left the game in its dying moments, he was given a standing ovation. After the game, he gave his size 13 sneakers to two different fans.
“It was a great atmosphere and I was able to go out with my brothers with a win,” said Cunningham.
On this night, it was not all about Obi Toppin, who had five dunks among his six baskets, including one on which he caught a pass one-handed above the rim and rammed it through the nets.
And it was not about guard Jalen Crutcher, who snatched a career-best 12 rebounds, all defensive, against one of the league’s best offensive rebounders.
And it was not even about the UD defense that smothered La Salle, holding the Explorers to 39 points, 28 per cent from the field, 4 for 27 from three by one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams, and preventing any La Salle player from scoring more than eight points.
“The story of the night is Josh Cunningham and Jack Westerfield,” said Grant. “It is about these seniors and what they’ve meant to me, what they mean to this program and what they mean to their teammates. I’m happy we were able to take care of business and send them out the right way.
“It was a great way to close out our season with a big win at home,” he added. “I couldn’t be happier for our seniors, our team and our fan base to be able to come out with a big win.”
And his final basket in UD Arena was not one of his close-in layups or a dunk – and he had one thunderous slam jam. His last basket was a long three.
“I wasn’t going to take it, but I was open so I said, ‘Why not?’ And he let ‘er rip right through the rim.
What mattered most to Cunningham was that the victory assured the Flyers of a top four finish in the Atlantic 10, meaning they get a double bye into the quarterfinals of the league tournament.
“This gave us a top four seed for sure,” he said. “That was special to give us a double bye going into the tournament.”
Before the game, Westerfield and Cunningham were honored on the floor and Josh walked to center court with his mother, LaTonya.
“She was emotional about it,” said Cunningham. “She means the world to me, sacrificing so much. Back in high school, and before high school, she would get off work to take me to practices. She stopped whatever she was doing to take me to games and practices.
And how about those 12 rebounds by Crutcher, a mere 6-foot-1 lurking under the hulking La Salle big guys?
“I didn’t know that,” Grant said. “That’s awesome.”
Said Crutcher, “That was all about Josh Cunningham boxing out. He was boxing out their big men, so I was going in there and cleaning up the boards.”
Despite a dubious start, a good time was had by all, unless you wore La Salle blue.
He was only 4 of 12 shooting and scored 11 points, but added six assist to his 12 boards.