Ibi Watson sparkled, the Dayton Flyers overcame a slow start, and improved to 8-1 with a Saturday night thumpin’ of the Drake Bulldogs at UD Arena.
DAYTON — When Drake University scans possible future basketball opponents, it might want to skip the state of Ohio. If it wants to play teams from states that begin with ‘O,’ check out Oklahoma or Oregon.
The Bulldogs barged into UD Arena Saturday night with an 8-and-2 record. Both losses were to Ohio schools — the University of Cincinnati (81-59) and Miami of Ohio (67-59).
And Drake dragged itself out of UD Arena with an 8-and-3 record, 0-and-3 against Ohio opponents.
The University of Dayton Flyers put a 78-47 hurtin’ on the Missouri Valley Conference team from Des Moines, Iowa.
But, back it up a minute.
While a 31-point victory sounds like a total mop-up, the 8-1 Flyers did not play like a team ranked 14th in the country by the Associated Press, especially in the first half.
The Flyers played the first 20 minutes as if all they had to do was scatter their credentials on the Arena floor and Drake would swoon.
And the amazing thing is that Drake was just as awful in the first half as the Flyers. Had the Bulldogs not shot enough bricks in the first half to build a fancy outhouse, the Flyers might have been in trouble.
Drake made only one of its first nine shots and fell behind, 13-5. The Flyers, though, thought it was a good night to see how many shots they could miss from beyond the three-point line. They made 2 of their first 9 and before they could wipe their brows it was 18-18.
That’s because Drake’s seven-footer, Liam Robbins, thought he was James Harden and planted himself above the key and fired away.
During an 11-0 Drake run, Robbins made three straight three-pointers and an old-fashioned three on a basket and a free throw.
Fortunately for the Flyers, Robbins picked up his third foul with 8 1/2 minutes left in the first half and grabbed a sideline chair when it was 18-18 and didn’t score again.
At the time Robbins was 4 for 5 from the field and the rest of the roster was 2 for 11.
The Flyers moved out to a 25-21 lead when Ibi Watson came off the bench to rally the Flyers around him.
He hit two free throws, a three-pointer and a drive to the basket — seven points in 60 seconds to push the Flyers to a 32-21 lead. At halftime it was 34-22.
The second half started quietly and the Flyers led 41-31 with 15 1/2 minutes left.
That’s when the Flyers decided to display the resolve and talent they possess. And it was Watson again, leading UD on a 21-4 bustout for 62-35 lead.
There is no other school in the country that can put an Ibi and an Obi on the floor at the same time.
Ibi Watson scored 10 of those 21 breakaway points and he finished with game-high 20 points after coming off the bench.
And Obi Toppin was Obi Toppin, a quiet 19 points with eight rebounds, three assists a couple of dunks and three blocked shots.
“I had a couple of good practices last weekend,” said Watson. “And the guys always tell me to shoot the ball because of my offense.
“It was just my night and like I’ve said before, anybody on this team can have a good night,” he added.
Watson’s first shot of the second half was an air ball, then he buried three straight and said, “In my mind, if I shoot an air ball it’s the ball’s fault.”
About the sluggish start by his teammates, Watson said, “It has kind of been a theme for us. We’ve started off good on the road against some good teams, but we’ve started slow against smaller teams at home. That’s something we have to correct.”
Watson is a transfer from Michigan and said, “My dream was always to play at Michigan and being from Columbus I know that’s odd. I’ve been playing with Trey Landers since the ninth grade in AAU ball and I visited Dayton about four times and liked it and liked (former coach) Archie Miller.”
So when Michigan didn’t work out, Watson came to Dayton.
UD coach Anthony Grant couldn’t have been pleased with the way the Flyers doinked around the floor in the first half, but took the high highway after the game.
“Give Drake credit, they had a good game plan,” he said. “Our guys did a really good job because in the first half Drake did a good job of taking some things away from us offensively.”
Drake is an offensively challenged team. Its leading scorer, Anthony Murphy, averages only 10.9 a game. Three other Bulldogs average 10-plus.
They rely on defense and a deliberate offense and were holding the opposition to 60 points a game.
“Our guys stayed the course and we did a really good job of taking some things away from them,” Grant added. “We found our rhythm offensively in the second half and Ibi gave us a big boost.”
Murphy led Drake with 13 points and Robbins had 12. No other Bulldog had more than six as Drake shot 16 for 56 (28.6 per cent).
“We had 19 assists, which is always good to see, and we had four guys in double figures,” said Grant.
Besides 20 by Watson and 19 by Toppin, ever-steady Trey Landers scored 12 and Rodney Chatman had 10.
“I give a lot of credit to Ibi Watson,” said Trey Landers. “He is a gym rat. He is in the gym all the time. Having him come off the bench and score and defend, that’s big-time. A lot of teams get 90 per cent of their scoring from the starting five. So to have a guy like Ibi coming off the bench is special.”
The Flyers lead the nation in assists per game with 20.3 and nearly matched it with 19. They are second nationally in points per game 87.4 and lead the nation in two-point field goal percentage at 65.9.
On Saturday, while they were cockeyed in three-point shooting (10 for 28), they were 17 for 27 inside the arc (62.9).
Grant was happy with his team’s awakening in the second half (44-25) and said, “We’re nine games into the season so this team has time to learn and grow. There was a lot on our guys’ plates with finals and stuff to do. So it was good to see them come out and put up a convincing win.”
Of Watson’s contributions off the bench, Grant said, “Ibi can do that. He can score. I thought tonight he got a lot of credit for what he did offensively. But what he did defensively allowed us to get out in transition. He got a few baskets in transition and was the beneficiary of plays his teammates made for him. And he was aggressive, attacked the basket. He scored a variety of ways.”
Grant around-the-periphery addressed the team’s lofty spot in the polls.
“Some other things come into play with the success that we’ve had but at the end of the day we have to keep our focus on what we need to do to be the best team we can be.
“To be honest, our goal was never to deal with rankings and outside opinions,” he said. “We have goals that if we continue to accomplish we can be as good as we want to be. We’ll keep our eye on the ball and play to our standards. When you are dealing with 18 to 22 year olds, sometimes it is hit-and-miss. But I haven’t seen a lot of that with this group. We’ll deal with it if it comes.”
And right now it is more hit than miss with these Flyers.