The University of Dayton Flyers, big favorites against Youngstown State, shook off a bit of overconfidence in the first half and rallied to win their fourth game of the season, 77-69, over the Penguins, setting up an important game Wednesday in Dallas against Southern Methodist.
Dayton, OH — After Youngstown State won the Horizon League regular season championship then lost most of its players, basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun imported 12 new players from seven different states.
Then in the first half Friday night in UD Arena, YSU had Dayton’s Flyers in a state of confusion.
The Flyers eventually put aside the pesky Penguins, 77-69, but it was far from the 13 1/2 point spread Las Vegas placed on the wagering table.
Perhaps it was a smidgeon of overconfidence — big, bad Dayton against a small school with no basketball tradition. After all, YSU’s three wins this season were attained against Ohio Christian, Utah Tech and Lake Erie, basketball’s version of beating Larry, Curly and Moe.
Or perhaps it was turkey and dressing hangover after most of the team partook of Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the coaches at UD Arena.
Whatever it was, Youngstown buried its first five shots, four straight from beyond the three-point stripe, treating UD Arena likes its personal playpen to take a 14-8 lead three-and-a-half minutes into the game.
Inside the Arena, one could hear a paper scouting report hit the floor.
“We started a little slow and we had to lock in and understand that it is not just about today’s game, it is about the impact that his game will have in the future for us,” said Koby Brea, the sniper-shooting sixth man who came off the bench to score 15.
After beating two Power Five teams in the Charleston Classic, LSU and St. John’s, to polish their resume for post-season NCAA at-large consideration, a loss to Youngstown State would have wiped out the Charleston accomplishments.
“We finally did a good job of thinking about that to the end of the game,” said Brea. “We did a pretty good job in Charleston, then going back to an opponent like this, we have to have a little bit better of a mindset going into the game and not underestimating anybody and understanding that every game is equally important.”
And it didn’t stop. With 7 1/2 minutes left in the half, Youngstown owned a 10-point lead, 28-18.
The Penguins still led, 35-28, with 3 1/2 minutes before intermission. That’s when the Flyers awoke, decided to defend aggressively and cease and desist from giving YSU open looks and open passage to the basket.
The Flyers embarked on a 9-0 breakaway. Koby Brea swished a three to tie it, 35-35, and then DaRon Holmes II, on snooze control most of the first half, gave the Flyers a 37-35 lead at intermission, a slam-jam dunk off a lob pass from Kobe Elvis that turned UD Arena into a ear-shattering screamatorium.
“Oh, man,” said Brea. “I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in my life. It just goes to show you want kind of player Deuce (Holmes) is — the fact he was able to catch that, find the rim somehow and still dunk it was unbelievable.”
It wasn’t an epic night for Holmes. He scored a quiet 18 points, fighting his way through double and triple teams.
He took only eight shots and made six, three of them dunks. He had only three rebounds, none at halftime, but blocked four shots.
He spent a lifetime at the foul line, drawing 11 fouls and fouling out two Youngstown defenders. Immanuel Zorgvol played only eight minutes and fouled out.
Holmes has shot free throws extremely well this season, but couldn’t knock the invisible lid off the rim on this night — 6 for 14 from the foul line. And when he made his last attempt late in the game, he took a little bow for the crowd.
Elvis took over to start the second half, scoring 11 of UD’s first 13 points — a trio of three-balls and a drive to the rim.
That eruption gave the Flyers a 50-45 lead and while they kept looking over their shoulders, they never relinquished the lead.
Youngstown was within three with 5:12 left, but the Flyers never buckled.
It is evident from the Flyer Faithful’s response and reaction to Isaac Jack, that he is the Chosen One, their favorite player.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore transfer from Buffalo, receives a raucous reception when his number 13 and light pink shoes hit the floor to give Holmes a break.
He played nearly 13 minutes Friday, made his only field goal attempt, hit four free throws, snagged three rebounds and blocked three shots.
“I think I bring a lot of energy and go at a pretty fast pace,” said Jack. “So just know that every time I’m out there to give it everything I’ve got. That’s the best way I can impact the game and help our team.”
Said Brea of Jack, “Since the day I met this man he keeps the same energy, every single day. Honestly, when he gets into the game, what he does is very contagious. We might start slow, like we did today, and he comes in and hypes everybody up with the level of energy we need. It is super appreciated what he does for this team.”
Jack transferred in from the University of Buffalo and the Dayton Dream is a reality. And he is learning from Holmes.
“Every day it is me against him in practice,” said Jack. “There are no other options, so competing against each other every day gets each other better.”
About his transfer to UD, Jack said, “I was looking for an opportunity to just keep getting better and play in front of bigger crowds. With coach A.G. (Anthony Grant) and Deuce (Holmes) it has been nothing but the best for how I want the future.”
His shooting can’t improve much. He has appeared in six games and is 11 for 12 from the field. . .one miss.
“It is my team setting me up and me being in the right spot to finish,” he said. “
The next assignment reached a much higher level of difficulty, a trip Wednesday to Dallas and a date with Southern Methodist.
“This group is super confident, no matter what happens, win or lose,” said Brea. “Going into this next game, everybody is confident. We’ll head down there and I’m sure everybody will bring their best. I think we’ll be good.”