- David Jablonski Staff Writer
Josh Cunningham watched his winning shot for the first time on a reporter’s cell phone seconds after completing a post-game interview. It won’t be the last time he sees it. This one will play on repeat for years in the mind of Cunningham and for everyone in the sellout crowd of 13,350 at UD Arena.
This wasn’t The Shot by Ed Young or The Kiss By Vee Sanford. Considering the circumstances, however, The Lob will go down in the Dayton Flyers record book as one of the most memorable last-second baskets in school history.
“I didn’t panic,” said Cunningham, a redshirt junior forward who’s Dayton’s lone captain. “I’ve seen big moments like this happen before. You can’t panic. When you panic, that’s when things start to go the wrong way. You’ve got to stay calm and execute what the play is.”
PHOTOS: Relive the dramatic victory
1. Long sequence: The last 2.6 seconds took a lifetime. That’s how much time the Flyers had after the go-ahead basket by Ball State’s Tayler Persons, who drove past Xeyrius Williams for a wide-open layup to complete Ball State’s comeback from a 73-66 deficit with 2:31 to play.
Dayton’s John Crosby started dribbling up the court after the basket by Persons and fired up a shot at half court just before the buzzer, but Williams wisely called a timeout before the shot. Then Crosby was about to throw an in-bounds pass from the sideline when Ball State called a timeout to set up its defense.
When Crosby did in-bound the ball, it was deflected out of bounds by Ball State. Officials reviewed the call and took longer than usual before awarding the ball to Dayton with 1.9 seconds to play. This time, Ball State put a taller defender on Crosby, so Dayton switched to Williams for the in-bounds pass.
2. Final shot: Williams took about three seconds before lobbing the ball to Cunningham at the rim.
“We were looking at two options there,” Grant said. “Josh at the rim was the first option. We thought we had time for a catch and shoot if we could get it to him. Then the other option was Darrell (Davis) coming to the top. We used him as a screener for (Jalen) Crutcher coming off the baseline to draw a little bit of attention. I don’t know if Darrell would have had a look had X not gone to Josh at the rim. I think X made a great decision. He gave Josh an opportunity on a jump ball. Josh was able to come down with it and had the presence of mind to finish.”
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Cunningham beat Ball State’s Jeremie Tyler and Trey Moses to catch the pass in front of the basket. He did not hesitate before going up with the shot, and there was no doubt he beat the buzzer. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
“When I came back down and I was going back up, I was like, ‘Wow, it’s wide open,’” Cunningham said. “I thought I shot it too short at first. Then I saw it rattle in and out. I was like, ‘Please, don’t come out.’ It stayed in. I was like, ‘Thank you.”
3. Prior possession: Dayton senior Darrell Davis opened his senior season with a strong game, scoring 16 points, including eight in a row in a 90-second stretch in the second half after Dayton fell behind by five. However, he made one wrong decision in the final minute that could have cost the Flyers.
Dayton led 76-75 when Davis missed a jump shot with 22 seconds left. That gave Ball State plenty of time to set up the go-ahead basket by Persons.
“We went a little too early on the clock,” Grant said. “That’s something we’ll learn from. I wanted to run the clock down to about 10 seconds on the shot clock to give them a little less time than we did.”
4. First victory: Grant became the seventh straight Dayton coach to win his first game, following Tom Blackburn, Don Donoher, Jim O’Brien, Oliver Purnell, Brian Gregory and Archie Miller.
“I’m blessed — I really am — every day to get a chance to do what I do,” Grant said. “I don’t take that for granted. It’s a surreal feeling to go out there and see 13,000 strong every night when you come out there. You could feel it at different points in the game. I’ve always said that about the Dayton crowd. They understand it. They get it.
“They were able to spur us when we got down there in the middle of the second quarter and gave us the energy to take the lead and fought all the way through to the end. You could feel the air kind of go out of the building in terms of the disappointment at the end. It looked like it wasn’t going to go in our favor, and then to hear the building explode at the end, I cherish every moment of that.”
5. Short bench: Dayton won with nine scholarship players available. One of them, freshman center, Jordan Pierce, didn’t see any action. Kostas Antetokounmpo scored his first points as a Flyer, making a 3-pointer in the second half, but played only six minutes.
One player who would have contributed more, freshman forward Matej Svoboda, missed the game with an illness.
“Matej a couple days ago was experiencing sinus headaches,” Grant said. “We weren’t quite sure if it was a virus or the flu or what it was. At the end of the day, I think the diagnosis was a sinus infection that brought on migraines. We were able to get him feeling a little better out there today, but he wasn’t in a position to help us. We thought it was in our best interest and his best interest to hold him out. We feel he should be fine as we move forward.”