The Flyers ensured a Happy New Year’s eve with hard-fought, but satisfying, end-of-the-year non-con win over Longwood…double figures from Holmes, Elvis and Brea…and Grinch-like defense in the second half.
Dayton, OH — For 22 minutes, it looked as if the University of Dayton Flyers were weighed down by Christmas fruitcake.
They looked as though they thought they were playing Deadwood instead of Longwood.
While Longwood is not a name brand, more like a basketball placebo, the Lancers did lug A 12-2 record into UD Arena Saturday afternoon and one of the best defensive statistics in the country. Nobody was awed or impressed.
All one had to do is scan their schedule to see whom they beat — Lamar, Bethune-Cookman, Morgan State, Galludet, Maryland Eastern Shore. Not very impresssive, right?
Then referee Jemel Spearman tossed the Nike basketball into the air and Longwood showed that it was one of the best-coached, best defensive teams the Flyers have played in the Arena this season.
Longwood was neither intimidated by the Flyers’ reputation nor intimidated by the Flyer Faithful, a crowd of 13,407, largest by far to see Longwood play this season.
Dayton won, 78-69, but it was not a fruitcake walk. It took an 18-5 splurge early in the second half for the Flyers to establish a semblance of command.
“I’m really impressed with Longwood’s team,” said Flyer coach Anthony Grant after leading his team to a 10-2 non-conference record. UD opens Atlantic 10 play Wednesday at Davidson.
“That’s a really good team we played today,” he added. “They’ve got a lot going for them as they head into their conference play (Big South).”
And it took a cement block solid all-around afternoon from DaRon Holmes II for the Flyers to put away the Lancers. Holmes scored 27 and had a double-double with 10 rebounds. And he added four assists, two steals and two blocked shots to his stuffed stat sheet. All that was missing was the partridge in pear tree.
But most impressive? The 6-foot-11 Holmes was 3 for 5 from the three-point line, including one from the parlor to beat the half-time buzzer.
That one was a momentum-changer. Longwood jumped to 5-0 lead and built an eight-point lead. And they led, 34-27, when Holmes buried his thee as time expired so that the Flyers only trailed by four at intermission, 34-30.
“They came out and they hit first, I guess in boxing terminology,” said Grant. “Our guys responded. The back half of the first half and then the second half, we played with really good competitive character.”
Holmes’ buzzer-beater at the end of the first half was from the top of the lane and was the endgame of the Flyers looking for an open shot. Holmes, undaunted and unafraid, swished it.
“That was pretty big. Everybody has those moments in their life,” said Holmes. “That was a big one, so they didn’t have too much momentum going into the half and into the second half.”
Shooting threes has become part of Holmes’ game. He is 10 for 23 this season.
Does he most enjoy bursting down the lane for a dunk or does he most enjoy hitting a three?
“Probably a dunk, just because that’s the core of what I’ve been doing from freshman year,” he said. “Dunking is something I’ve done since freshman year and I really love it.
“The three is something I’ve been adding to my game to just help out with our offense so teams can’t guard us like they used to,” he added. “They are both very exciting, but the dunk always brings energy.”
And there is an ulterior motive for the threes and the initials are N-B-A.
“I work on the threes every day,” he said. “That’s something that is an every day thing. It’s a lot of work and I’ve been told if I keep doing that, great things will come.”
So what happened at intermission to make Longwood go away?
“We communicated (at half-time) on what we needed to fix,” said Holmes. “They’re a very good team, very well-coached. We adjusted and we went out there and executed.”
Said Javon Bennett, who contributed 11 points, four assists and direction from his point guard point of view, “For us. it was rebounding. They kind of killed us on the glass in the first half and we played with more pace on the offense in the second half.”
At halftime, Longwood owned the boards, 16-13, with four offensive boards. The Flyers didn’t clean that up as much as Bennett implied. For the game, Longwood outboarded the Flyers, 34-28, with 11 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points.
Bennett, the Flyers primary point guard after Malachi Smith went down for the season, is a transfer from Merrimack and is now a facilitator for Holmes, including a lob slam dunk Saturday.
“Deuce does stuff for us,” Bennett said of Holmes. “His ability to make defenses help on him, and his ability to score from all levels is really big for us. We feed off his ability to do that stuff.”
After Longwood scored to open the second half to grab a 39-34 lead, Kobe Elvis (12 points) banged in two straight threes to give the Flyers their first lead of the afternoon, 40-39, as the Flyer Faithful exercised their lungs at high decibels for the first time.
That’s the time opponents usually become meek and mild. Not Longwood. Unintimidated, they barged back in front, 45-41.
And that’s when the UD Arena roof collapsed on Longwood’s heads — an 18-5 run from 14:45 to 9:01. It began with a Holmes free throw, a Holmes three-pointer, threes by Koby Brea (12 points) and Javon Bennett on a kick-out pass from Holmes, two free throws each by Nate Santos and Bennett, a spin move to the basket by Holmes and a fast break basket by Brea.
So, from a 45-41 defefit, the Flyers forged ahead 59-48. lead.
Longwood came to town with the NCAA’s 12th best defensive numbers, giving up only 61.6 points a game. And while the Flyers scored 78, second most against the Lancers this season, they had to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it.
Asked if Longwood was the best defensive team the Flyers faced, Holmes said, “Yes, definitely. The way they were playing, especially against our guards, they did a pretty good job defensively at first. It took us a second to try to adjust, but we figured it out.”
Holmes, for sure, figured it out.
Now it’s time for the Flyers to figure it out in the Atlantic 10, especially as pre-season favorites to drink from the championship cup.
“There are things we need to do better, especially on the defensive end,” said Grant. “Overall, our guys ability to take care of the ball (only six turnovers). our ability to try to help each other and make plays for each other — we ended up with 17 assists and only six turnovers…
“As we finished the non-conference portion of our schedule, I think I like where we are,” he added. “But I still think there’s another gear that we can get to and I think we will.”