By: Connor Hanson – Staff Writer
Battling through injuries and lineup shakeups, the Dayton men’s basketball team saw its three game win streak come to an end Friday night at VCU, moving the Flyers into second place in the conference.
It was the Flyers’ fifth loss overall of the year, and their first bump in the road since dropping an uncharacteristic game to Massachusetts on Jan. 11.
With a key win against Richmond on Jan. 19, the Flyers boosted themselves into a tie for first in the Atlantic 10. Not only did that win put them in first place, but also gave Dayton its 200th win in the A-10, of which they’ve been a part since 1996. Plus, it was the program’s 1,600th win in 111 years of existence.
The Flyers were able to get the win minus their dynamic senior starting guard Kyle Davis, who was out with an ankle injury. With Davis out, Dayton needed its younger guys to step up.
Following the “next up” mentality that Dayton has owned in years past, Darrell Davis, Xeyrius Williams and Ryan Mikesell all came up big for the Flyers as they each scored in double-digits for the game.
Dayton’s next game against St. Louis gave them a chance to surmount themselves all alone at the top of the A-10. Once again without Davis, Dayton outpaced the Billikens, winning 67-46.
Nine Flyers scored in this contest. Only seniors Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard scored in double-digits for the game, as the rest of the scoring was evenly distributed among the seven other players.
Coming off two victories, the Flyers faced a tough test in an even tougher environment. VCU now stood in the way of Dayton, hoping to knock the Flyers off the top of the A-10. With Kyle Davis back in the lineup, Dayton headed into the Siegel Center with a full head of steam.
Head coach Archie Miller noted that the Siegel Center is “one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball. It’s one of the best environments that I’ve ever been in,” Miller said. “The couple times we’ve been there it’s been just an electric environment and we can’t let the environment overwhelm us.”
However, VCU’s student section “blackout” seemed to suck the life out of the Flyers for stretches of the game, as Dayton went cold from the field at the end of the first half and start of the second half, ultimately leading to their demise.
The Flyers didn’t go away quietly, as in true Dayton fashion, they attempted to rally in the waning moments of the game, bringing themselves to within three points before VCU hit free throws and iced the game for good.
Dayton now sits tied with VCU for second place in the A-10. But Richmond, who has one more win than the Flyers and Rams, leads the conference again. All three have two conference losses each.
However, with Dayton’s growth on defense, Kyle Davis’ return and Josh Cunningham’s rehabilitation progress, the month of January has ended on an overall positive note.
Speaking on his recovery from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ankle, Cunningham said, “It feels great, I don’t have the boot anymore, I’m able to walk on my own, it’s just amazing to be able to walk by myself again.”
An injury like this can bring even the toughest of people down, but not Cunningham. He has stayed positive through the whole ordeal.
“You have to stay positive through things like this, in order for the outcome to be great. Playing has been on my mind since I’ve gotten hurt, and I haven’t really thought about not playing this season,” he said.
Cunningham still has a lot to accomplish before being evaluated for his return to play, but his positivity and continued improvement keeps his return as a real possibility.
As for their efforts on defense, Miller says the Flyers have yet to reach their full potential. “Our defense has been real good, everybody’s stepping up one by one and I feel when we get everybody together in a few weeks, we’ll be even better,” he said.
With all this in tow, the Flyers head into February trending upward, steadily refining and piecing together their roster, ready for the final month of the regular season.
Photo Courtesy of Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics