The University of Dayton basketball team had lost seven of its last 10 games to LaSalle in Tom Gola Arena, good teams losing to bad teams, so it was with trepidation that the Flyers trudged into Gola Arena Tuesday night. But this time they took care of a business, a 66-54 win that was their 13th straight and lifted their record to 16-2, 6-0 in the Atlantic 10, good for first place.
Philadelphia, PA. — In recent history, when the University of Dayton Flyers played LaSalle in Tom Gola Arena, it was as if the Flyers thought they were playing the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Explorers have endured eight straight non-winning seasons, but they’ve had some magic potion and special voodoo over the Flyers, winning seven of the previous 10 games in their quaint little second-floor 3,000-seat gym that sits above a swimming pool.
And a pre-season coaches/media poll told LaSalle, “Sorry, guys. You’re going to finish last in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season. But you can probably beat Dayton on your home floor.”
So that was the back-drop when the Flyers took the LaSalle floor Tuesday night to face a team that had lost five of its last six and was 1-and-4 in league play.
And as expected and predicted, it was not a holly jolly evening for the Flyers, but they walked off the floor with a hardscrabble 66-54 win.
UD coach Anthony Grant called LaSalle, “A good team,” even though the Explorers are 1-5 in the A-10 and have lost six of their last seven games.
“All A-10 games, especially road games, are hard to come by,” he said. “So I’m proud of our guys for being able to get the win today.”
The game had more fluctuations than a bathroom light switch before UD tucked away their 13th straight victory that lifted its record to 16-2, 6-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The 16th-ranked Flyers seemed to have things tucked in their shoulder totes with a 40-25 lead early in the second half.
But this was LaSalle in Tom Gola Arena playing the Flyers. They scrambled back, aided by a 9-0 run and there it was. . .disaster staring at the Flyers like an oncoming cement truck with a sliced brake line.
The Flyers, though, didn’t wince, blink or stagger during a brief hiatus against LaSalle’s zone defense
Javon Bennett, the thimble-sized point guard, banged home a pair of threes. DaRon Holmes II bullied his way to point-blank sight of the rim and scored twice.
As quickly as Edwin Moses was off the starting blocks, the Flyers were up 55-45 with 4 1/2 minutes left and the ghost of Gola past was avoided.
“We struggled there to see the ball go in against the zone and they were able to cut the lead to three,” said Grant. “They’re a team that plays deliberately, a possession game.
“For our guys it was great to be able to weather the storm when they cut it to three. Javon Bennett came on with those big threes and we got
some stops and were able to make some plays.
“So credit to our guys, they did the things they needed to do to get the win,” he added.
At that point, the Flyers retreated into a zone defense of their own that disrupted the flow of LaSalle’s offense, forcing them to waste valuable minutes off the clock trying to launch shots.
LaSalle’s offense begins and ends with a pair of smallish guards they call The Killer B’s — 6-foot-1 Khalil Brantley and 5-foot-10 Jhamir Brickus.
Both came in averaging close to 15 a game, but the Flyers removed their stingers. Brantley scored eight on 3 for 13 shooting and Brickus scored nine on 4 for 7 shooting. The Explorers tried 29 three-pointers and connected only 8 times (27.6%)
“I thought we really defended. . .their guards are just so crafty,” said Grant. “Over the course of a 40-minute game, they’re going to get some.”
They didn’t get many. . .far below both their averages and their frustrations were palpable.
For the fourth straight game,Holmes passed the 20 mark on the score sheet, 22 on this night, 16 in the first half.
He had ample aid from Bennett with 13 points, Nate Santos with 13 and Kobe Elvis with 10.
The Flyers hit 27 of 57 (47.4%), 5 of 19 from the three-point line (26.3%).
After Bennett’s two threes put the Flyers back in command, he made certain they stayed there. He hit another three with 3 1/2 minutes left to maintain the 10-point lead, 60-50, then once again extended the lead to 10 at 64-54 with a pair of free throws with 50 seconds left.
So what’s the morbid history of UD traipsing to Philadelphia and returning home with bellyaches not caused by bad cheesesteaks?
First of all, they had lost seven of the last 10 games in Tom Gola Arena and it usually was a good UD team losing to a ho-hum LaSalle team.
Three stinging examples:
—2015: Dayton won 27 games that season, but lost in Tom Gola Arena, 55-54, to a LaSalle team that finished 15-15.
—2016: The Flyers started their A-10 season 11-0. Then they lost to a team that was 0-11. Who was it? Yessir, a 61-57 setback in Tom Gola Arena to LaSalle.
—2022: Dayton was 20-8 when it hit Philly for a game against LaSalle. The Explorers finished 7-18 that season, but one of those seven wins was a 62-60 victory over UD in Tom Gola Arena.
They call Tom Gola Arena ‘The Attic,’ but too many times for good Dayton teams it was ‘The Basement,’ where the swimming pool resides.
This time UD survived and temporarily leads the A10, a half-game ahead of Richmond. The 5-0 Spiders host George Washington Wednesday night. If they win to go 6-0, it sets up an argument for first place Saturday when Dayton visits Richmond.