Dayton Flyers overcome adversity in victory against Purdue Fort Wayne

Flyers give up 10 3-pointers in first half but only three in second half


Josh Cunningham leads Dayton with 20 points.

Dayton Flyers guard Trey Landers did his best Braxton Miller impression in the first half Friday against Purdue Fort Wayne — one Wayne High School graduate spinning like the other.

Miller’s spin move three years ago in an Ohio State football game at Virginia Tech will live forever on social media. The move by Landers in a 91-80 victory against Purdue Fort Wayne didn’t quite measure up — even in Landers’ mind — though it was a thing of beauty.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Landers said. “That boy juked two dudes. Mine wasn’t that crazy.”

» PHOTO GALLERY: 20 best shots from the game

Dayton’s offense showed plenty of other fancy moves — a behind-the-back pass by Jhery Matos, more dunks from Obi Toppin and plenty of post moves by Josh Cunningham in his season debut — but its defense again showed many of the same issues that plagued it last season, and they are problems that will have to be fixed fast because there’s a chance Dayton’s next four games will be against teams ranked in the top 50 of the Ken Pomeroy ratings.

“When you play teams that one through five can shoot the ball and space the floor really well, it’s kind of difficult for us,” said Landers, who scored 15 points. “They hit 10 3s in the first half, and coach emphasized we have to run them off the 3-point line. They hit three in the second half, which is great for us. We did a good job switching screens. I give credit to them. They’re a great team. They can shoot the lights out of the ball. It was good for us. We haven’t faced much adversity. That was the first time. We did a good job bouncing back.”

Dayton improved to 3-0 this season with its second double-digit victory in a row. Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. Early struggles: The Mastodons (2-3) made 10 of 17 3-pointers in the first half. Three of the 3-pointers came in the last two minutes. They closed the half on a 14-3 run to take a 47-42 lead.

“We knew they had the potential to be a very good 3-point shooting team,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “and they proved that in the first half. They put on a shooting exhibition in the first half. Some of it was really good offense by them. Some of it was bad defense on our end.”

2. Halftime adjustments: Fort Wayne made 3 of 12 3-pointers in the second half. Dayton faced its biggest deficit, 53-45, 90 seconds into the second half but tied the game on a free throw by Ryan Mikesell at the 12:43 mark and took the lead for good on a free throw by Jalen Crutcher on the next possession.

The Flyers slowed their offense in the final minutes after building a double-digit lead. The clock-killing strategy worked. The Mastodons went cold, scoring 10 points in the final eight minutes.

“The first half, they got the best of us,” Cunningham said. “In the second half, we made adjustments and shut them down.”

Fort Wayne ran into a similar problem at Ohio State on Sunday. It made 6 of 16 3-pointers in the first half and then 0 of 11 in the second half. A 41-34 halftime deficit became a 107-61 rout.

“They’re able to space the floor with shooting and also put the ball on the deck and get to the rim,” Grant said. “When we had difficulty in the first half is they were able to get to the paint, create help situations then the extra pass for 3s. We got caught sometimes either being too concerned with our individual man or over-concerned with being able to help and stop the ball, which led to some bad close-out situations that led to disadvantages for us. We made some adjustments in the second half that kind of took that away from them.”

3. Dominant debut: Cunningham made 9 of 10 shots and led the Flyers with 20 points and eight rebounds in his first game. He missed the first two games with a wrist injury. He said he ran into a teammate in practice Nov. 6 but the wrist is “perfectly fine” now. He looked healthy in this game

» LINEUP UPDATE: Cunningham returns for Dayton

“I know he scored a lot, but defensively, he was a catalyst for us,” Grant said. “In the second half, he and Obi (Toppin), we made an adjustment where we were switching ball screens and those guys did a really good job of being able to keep the guards in front and not give up 3s and not give up penetration. He came up with some really big rebounds late. I’m very proud of him. We missed him the first two games. It’s good to have him back.”

4. Bigger impact: Matos delivered his best performance so far as a Flyer. He scored seven points, doubling his season total, and added four assists and two steals in 28 minutes. Grant also praised his defensive performance. That was the reason he started the second half instead of Toppin.

“He did a good job of keeping the ball in front of him,” Grant said. “He did a good job of being physical without fouling. He was able to get his hands on some balls and create some opportunities for us. Defensively, he gave us a big-time lift.”

» RECRUITING NEWS: Latest signing brings size to Dayton roster in 2019

5. Big picture: Dayton picked up its best victory of the season from a ratings standpoint. Fort Wayne ranks 185th in the Pomeroy ratings. The Flyers won their eighth straight home game and evened their record at 17-17 in the Grant era.

However, Dayton will take a major step up in competition level in its next game, facing No. 32 Butler (3-0) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas.

“We’ll be ready,” Landers said. “There’s a lot of good teams there. We focus on what we do. I’m not really worried about what those other teams have. No disrespect to them, but I focus on Dayton basketball.”

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