Josh Cunningham had a simple answer for why the Dayton basketball team failed to find consistency at home Saturday against Penn.
“I felt like if we would’ve played harder than them, for sure we would’ve beat them just because we would’ve wore them down,” Cunningham said.
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His coach, Anthony Grant, couldn’t have agreed more with his junior center. Penn played with great energy for 40 minutes. His team? At times, but not nearly enough to avoid losing to an Ivy League team for the first time to ruin a 13-0 record against such schools.
“As a coach, that’s my responsibility to make sure that the guys are prepared to do that every single night that we take the floor,” Grant said. “And not take the opportunity that we have for granted.”
Every Dayton rally looked like it would be the one to get the Flyers to the lead for good. But the Quakers wouldn’t stop making 3-pointers, especially a guy a who came off the bench named Sam Jones.
After John Crosby scored six points to help Dayton slice a seven-point lead to one with 4:38 left, Jones came off the bench. He got wide open on the right side and made his fourth 3-pointer. Then with Matej Svoboda playing the tightest defense possible, the slender 6-foot-7 Jones rose up from the left corner and made another for a five-point lead with 2:27 left.
From there, all Dayton could do was foul and try to score more than Penn. The Quakers made too many free throws and left UD Arena with a 78-70 victory.
Dayton (4-5) knew the Quakers (8-4) would shoot 3-pointers. They take over 26 a game but came in shooting only 33.2 percent. They made 13 of 22 for 59.1 percent and shot 55.3 percent overall. Jones, a senior who plays about five minutes a game and had scored 18 points all season, made 5 of 6 3-point shots and scored 15 points in 13 minutes.
“We just try to make them uncomfortable and run them off the line as much as possible,” Cunningham said. “But it comes down to us just playing harder.”
The Flyers were inconsistent from the start. They fell behind 21-7 as Penn started hot from the 3-point line. But with starters Cunningham and Darrell Davis joined by Crosby, Svoboda and Jordan Davis off the bench, the Flyers went on a 16-0 run to take a 23-21 lead. They made it to halftime tied at 35.
Cunningham’s shooting has been a consistent theme for the Flyers. He made all nine of his shots Saturday, including a 3-pointer, to score a game-high 21 points. It’s the second straight game he’s made every shot. Over the last three games, he is 22 of 23.
Crosby lost his starting point guard job three games ago to freshman Jalen Crutcher, but Crosby sparked the Flyers in both halves, played 25 minutes and scored 15 points.
“I just tried to affect the game today and put pressure on the defense and things started opening up,” he said.
The Flyers are off this week for finals before a home game on Saturday against Georgia State. The test for Grant will be to get his team to play with consistent and high energy.
“Maybe I’ll look at the film and feel differently,” he said. “But right now, based on what I saw for 40 minutes, I’ve got to do a better job with our group.”