Playing Saint Mary’s ‘a great opportunity’ for Dayton Flyers

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Dayton Flyers highlights: Dunks from first seven games

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Gaels have won eight games in a row

The Dayton Flyers have played games in 41 states since the 1949-50 season and have failed to win a game in 12 of those. Few states have troubled the program like Arizona.

» PREVIEW: What you need to know about Sunday’s game

There was the triple-overtime loss to UCLA in the 1974 NCAA tournament and then a five-point loss to New Mexico in the regional third-place game two days later. Twenty six years later, in the 2000 NCAA tournament, playing once again at Arizona State’s McKale Center, the Flyers lost 62-61 to Purdue in the first round.

The McKale Center is a two-hour drive from Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, where the No. 19 Flyers (6-1) will play Saint Mary’s (9-1) at 4 p.m. Sunday. Ending its drought in the Arizona desert won’t get Dayton to the NCAA tournament, but it would be a big step toward stamping their ticket for an at-large bid. This has long been circled as one of the most important games of the season for the Flyers.

"I know they've got some really good players," said Dayton coach Anthony Grant on Tuesday after a 99-68 victory against Houston Baptist. "They're well coached. They've got a history of winning. They've got some big wins early in the season. Our guys will be excited about the opportunity to go out and play. It's a great opportunity for our basketball team early in the year to test ourselves against a very good opponent."

» WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Flyers beat Morehead State on School Day

Here are five storylines to watch Sunday:

1. The game matches two of the nation's best offenses: Dayton has the fifth-most efficient offense in the country. Saint Mary's ranks 15th. Dayton ranks first in 2-point shooting percentage (67.4). Saint Mary's ranks seventh in 3-point percentage (42.0).

The three outside shooters to watch from Saint Mary’s are: Jordan Ford (27 of 65, 41.5); Malik Fitts (15 of 39, 38.5); and Tanner Krebs (26 of 46, 56.5).

2. Dayton seeks revenge after two losses to Saint Mary's: When the teams played three years ago at UD Arena, Dayton had a senior-dominated team that would win the Atlantic 10 championship outright, but the Flyers didn't have senior forward Kendall Pollard, who missed the game with an injury, when they played the Gaels.

» OFFENSE THRIVING: Dayton ranks among nation’s highest-scoring teams

Dayton fell behind by 20 before Scoochie Smith, Charles Cooke and others began a furious comeback. If not for an offensive foul in the final seconds by Xeyrius Williams, Dayton might have tied the score. UD lost 61-57.

A year later, in Grant's first season with the program, the rebuilding Flyers traveled to Saint Mary's and led at halftime only to see the Gaels pull away in the second half for a 69-54 victory.

Those two Saint Mary’s teams combined to go 59-11. The 2017-18 team failed to make the NCAA tournament despite a 30-6 record.

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Watch: Two minutes of Dayton Flyers making 3s

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3. The Gaels have won eight straight games since a head-scratching loss: After starting the season at No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and moving to No. 18 after beating Wisconsin 65-63 in overtime in its opener, Saint Mary's lost 61-59 at home to Winthrop (4-4) on Nov. 11.

» A-10 UPDATE: Dayton, VCU look like favorites

Saint Mary’s fell out of the top 25. Its best victory since that loss came against Utah State, which was ranked 15th and fell to 25th. Saint Mary’s shot a season-worst 39.2 percent from the field Thursday in a 61-49 victory against Northern Illinois.

4. This will be the first real test for Dayton as a ranked team: A victory Sunday might assure Dayton will stay in the top 25 until January. The Flyers will be big favorites in their four remaining home games in December. Only a neutral-court game against No. 20 Colorado (7-0) in Chicago on Dec. 21 could trip up the Flyers, though a loss in that game might not be enough to knock Dayton from the rankings if they climb a few spots by beating Saint Mary's.

“The way we’re playing right now,” Dayton guard Trey Landers said, “if we really lock in and do what we do and play our game, we’ll be fine.”


SUNDAY’S GAME

No. 19 Dayton vs. Saint Mary’s in Phoenix, 4 p.m., ESPNU, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO

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Dayton Flyers highlights: Guard Trey Landers

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