For the second straight game, when DaRon Holmes II saw his team staggering, he took command. After scoring only four points in the first half as his Dayton Flyers fell behind by two points at halftime, Holmes scored 25 in the second half to scorch Saint Louis, 70-65, UD’s 11th straight win that lifted its record to 14-2 with a perfect 4-0 in the Atlantic 10.
Dayton, OH. — When Saint Louis University basketball coach Travis Ford was handed a sheet of halftime statistics Tuesday night in UD Arena, he probably broke into a smile, a smile as wide as the Mississippi River that meanders near the SLU campus.
What he read was that University of Dayton’s Mr. All-World, DaRon Holmes II, took only two shots, made one (a slam dunk) and a pair of free throws.
Four points. Four points from a guy leading the Atlantic 10 Conference with an 18.2 average and was fresh off scoring 33 points against Duquesne.
And Ford’s Billikens led the Flyers by two points and the aroma of an upset permeated his team’s dressing quarters.
Ford and his Billikens, though, didn’t know what was transpiring in the UD dressing room.
Kobe Elvis and some of the other Flyers were heaping advice and demands on Holmes for the second half. And he responded as if an elderly lady stuck a hatpin in his posterior.
Holmes went on a rampage in the second half, 25 points of taken advice, en route to 29 points as the lead horse in Dayton’s 70-65 win.
Holmes scored 25 of his team’s 42 second-half points and 17 of the Flyers last 23, leading the Flyers to their 11th straight win, pushing their record to 14-2, 4-0 in the Atlantic 10.
And it would have been much more if Holmes hadn’t treated the basket like the eye of a needle at the foul line. He made 10 stops there and made only 10 of 17 and missed the front end of one-and-ones several times.
So what happened during intermission?
“The first half we kind of slipped, so we had a good lockerroom talk,” said Holmes. “We figured it out and went back out there in the second half and played our butts off.”
And Kobe Elvis expanded upon on it.
“We just had to put whatever it was (in the first half) and put it behind us,” he said. “Flush the first half. We didn’t shoot the ball well. Sometimes when we shoot well, the guys are happy. But sometimes shots affect guys’ attitude about the game. So we have to be mature enough to battle back. We might not shoot the ball well, but we have to find a way to win the game.”
Finding a way is dialing D-A-R-O-N-I-I.
The Flyers tread heavily on the Billikens in the early going, bursting to 10-2 and 16-8 leads. Saint Louis missed its first eight shots, then found the range. A 15-1 run pushed the Billikens in front, 23-17, and they maintained a 30-28 lead at halftime.
“This is a hard league,” said UD coach Anthony Grant with a sigh of relief after the game. “We got really good looks on one of those nights when shots didn’t fall for us.
“They had a little bit of a run and we kinda got out of sorts,” he added. “But our guys did a great job to close the half, then did a great job in the second half. They showed great competitive character.”
And DaRon led them down the path to victory and he gets better and better and better. Where does he think he is most improved from last year?
He pointed to his head.
“I think I’ve improved most from the neck up, understanding the game better,” he said. “I feel like I’ve improved my shooting and I’ve created more opportunities for my teammates.
“It opens things up by me reading the game better. Making better decisions. There comes to a point in time when skills get you so far, but it’s also about reading the game and communicating,” he added.
And nobody appreciates DaRon’s headiness more than Grant.
“DaRon is one of the best players in the country,” said Grant. “He did a great of understanding where he had an advantage and what needed to be done today to put us in a position, both offensively and defensively — blocked shots. scoring and ended up shooting 17 free throws.”
Holmes’ dunks, four of ‘em, made his opponents’ blood curdle and on defense with four blocked shots he was Elvis Presley — Return To Sender.
So why only two shots in the first half?
“The first half, 18 of our 27 shots were threes and we were like 5 for 18 from the three-point line,” said Grant. “The majority were good looks on a night when the shots weren’t falling.
“We’re fortunate that we have more ways to be effective from an offensive standpoint,” he added. “We were able to attack the rim, get out in transition, draw fouls. . .we were able to go inside a little bit.”
Going inside was fortunate for the Flyers because they were as cold outside as the sub-zero temperature outside the arena.
Going inside and attacking the rim was the eminent domain of Holmes.
It all began when Saint Louis sneaked up on the Flyers to within 47-41 with 11 minutes left.
Holmes made the front end of a one-and-one, the missed the second. But Isaac Jack rebounded the miss and dropped it back in.
Holmes then missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones and Enoch Cheeks made one of two.
With the Flyer making only 16 of 29 free throws, who would have figured that Kobe Elvis would set a free throw record. He extended his perfection to 37 straight on this night, a UD record, “Then I missed the next one,” he said with a sly grin.
Anyway, the Flyer led, 51-47, after Cheeks made one of two. . .and after that, like a lit bomb with a short fuse, Holmes went off.
He actually made two free throws, converted a three-point play on a dunk and a foul that brought the house down.
He pilfered a pass at mid-court, dribbled like the Lonesome Dove to the hoop and rattled the rafters, the roof and the Stewart Street Bridge with a two-handed slam.
“I loved that dunk,” said Elvis. “I hope he had his tongue out because I know he was trolling, going down the court smilin.’”
Said Holmes, “I was kinda upset because I was missing my free throws so I was on a rampage, so locked in on dunking it as hard as I can.”
Added Elvis, “Did you see him staring at everyone on the bench? That’s what you guys (media) don’t see. Him being goofy.”
Goofy and good.
That monumental dunk put the Flyers in front, 58-49 with five minutes left. The Billikens were done, but Holmes wasn’t.
He hit a jumper. He tipped one in. He made a free throw, then he made two free throws.
After Koby Brea hit a three that pretty much put the game on ice, so to speak, Holmes finished the scoring with another thunder dunk near the buzzer.
Was that piling on? Was that showing up the Billikens. As soon as the game ended, Grant wrapped his arms around Holmes.
“He thought I did a good job and he said he didn’t think it was wrong that I dunked at the end of the game,” said Holmes. “It’s a rivalry. It was not anything personal or intentional. I was playing to the clock. I’m not the type of person to be disrespectful. He wasn’t upset at me at all.”
With all the other stuff he does — the 29 points, the four blocks, the 14 rebounds, the two steals, the four dunks, he makes complete more than an eight-letter word.
The Flyers crept into the AP Top 25 this week, 21st, and they made certain the same fate that befell 15 of last week’s 25 Top Teams didn’t fall on them.
Fifteen of the 25 lost.
“It’s maturity,” Grant said about his team’s 20/20 focus and sometimes 20/15. “Our guys have been through stuff and the guys who have been with us a couple of years are on the cusp of accomplishing things we want to accomplish but haven’t been able to do.”
While Holmes was the only Flyer in double figures, Saint Louis had three, but the leader was fifth-year player Gibson Jimerson with 13.
He averages 17-plus, but Elvis put the lid on him and Jimerson needed 16 shots and was 3 for 9 from three.
“Elvis did a heck of a job defensively,” said Grant. “Jimerson is one of the best players in the country, one of the elite offensive talents. Elvis made it really challenging for him and the shots that he made, he had to earn every basket that he got tonight.”