Freshman forward DaRon Holmes II (No. 15) goes up for a block during the Flyers’ 39-point win over the Hornets at UD Arena. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
Returning to UD Arena after the championship win in the ESPN Events Invitational in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team took on 2-6 Alabama State, a far cry from No. 4 Kansas, who they upset 74-73 during the invitational.
Against the Hornets, the Flyers relied on scoring from all over, but especially from sophomore forward Toumani Camara, sophomore guard Kobe Elvis and freshman guard Malachi Smith, who combined for 46 points in the Flyers’ 93-54 win Wednesday night.
But for Flyers head coach Anthony Grant, the performance of the defense came first.
“I thought tonight we put together two really good halves on the defensive end.”
The Hornets scored the first points of the game after a putback from a miss, but then went 3:17 without a made field goal. Camara scored four points and freshman forward DaRon Holmes II blocked two shots to put the Flyers up 6-2 with 15:35 left in the half, and Smith made a pair of free throws after the media timeout.
“I thought in the first half, I love the way we started (on defense),” Grant said.
Defensively, the Flyers stifled the Hornets, holding the visitors scoreless for seven minutes as Smith knocked down two four free throws and found Elvis for a three to push the Flyers’ lead to 13-2 with 11:52 left in the half.
“Defense, I think, is something we’re getting better at every day,” Camara said. “It’s something we work on a lot. Coach (Grant) is really trying to find our identity as a team, and I think we’re kind of on the way to finding it.”
The Hornets finally broke their scoreless streak at nine minutes, but threes from sophomore forward Mustapha Amzil and sophomore guard Koby Brea kept the Flyers ahead by a comfortable 21-9 score with 7:23 left in the first half.
Just when Alabama State appeared to be going on a run, the Flyers responded with a quick 7-0 run to take a 19-point lead with 5:32 left in the half. A three from Amzil and an offensive rebound and put-back layup by Holmes II buoyed the Flyers quick burst.
When the media timeout arrived with 3:57 left in the half, the Flyers still held a comfortable lead at 30-13. Outshooting the Hornets 42 to 25 percent from the field, the Flyers were in position to go into halftime with a big lead.
But the visitors made a quick 6-0 push with a pair of threes to cut the deficit to 11. Once again, the Flyers pushed back with a dunk by sophomore forward R.J. Blakney, a fast break layup by Holmes II and a pair of free throws by Smith to inflate the lead to 36-19.
Alabama State finished the first half with four of five made field goals to trim the Dayton lead to 36-23 at halftime. At the break, the Flyers led rebounds 20-15 and maintained a 43-33 advantage on field goal percentage.
To start the second half, Blakney provided a spark with a three followed by a three-point play after a layup. He then grabbed an offensive rebound and assisted an Elvis three to push the lead to 20.
“Our team is a lot of you know young guys, so we have a lot of energy and that kind of goes into when guys get into the games,” Elvis said. “They bring a new spark of energy into the game. And guys are always saying to stay ready to stay ready. So once guys get out onto the court that they’re prepared.”
Smith then got a steal and knocked down a jumper, and then assisted an Elvis jumper to give the Flyers a 51-25 lead with 15:58 left in the second half.
Elvis knocked down a three and then three free throws after being fouled on an attempt from beyond the arc, and the Flyers continued to extend their lead. UD led 59-33 with 11:57 left in the game, with Elvis leading the team with 16 points, and Smith adding 12 points.
“My teammates, you know, I got to give (credit) to them,” Elvis said. “They found me and I was open and was able to make some shots.”
Both teams exchanged baskets to keep the Flyers’ lead around 14, but a driving layup by freshman guard Lynn Greer III, a fastbreak layup by Amzil and a deep three by Brea fueled a 7-0 run for UD and gave them a 68-37 lead.
The Flyers continued to push the needle, and a pair of dunks by Camara, one a ferocious put-back slam after a missed shot, gave the Flyers a 74-41 lead with 6:55 left in the game.
“Everybody can score on our team,” Camara said. “So I think that’s the greatest thing, we have four or five guys in double digits almost every night. Scoring is really not something I should be worried about, I think we’re gonna find a way.”
Led by Sissoko with a layup and dunk, the Flyers continued to increase their lead. Freshman forward Kaleb Washington entered for the first time this season and knocked down a pair of free throws as well as assisting Sissoko’s dunk. With 3:12 left in the game, the Flyers were firmly in control with an 89-47 lead.
UD saw out the rest of the clock and came away with a 93-54 win to improve to 5-3 on the season. Camara and Elvis led the Flyers with 16 points each, and Smith finished with 14 points, five assists and seven rebounds.
“Offensively can be anybody’s day,” Camara said. “(Shots) can be open for Koby Brea, can be open for Kobe Elvis, can be open for Mali (Smith), DaRon, me, R.J., or Poo (Elijah Weaver). I think that’s one of the great things about our team is everybody’s capable of scoring.”
Weaver was out of Wednesday’s game for “disciplinary reasons.”
Camara also added seven rebounds, and Holmes led the team with eight. As a team, the Flyers finished with 41 rebounds to 28 by the Hornets, and had 27 free throws attempts (23 made) to just 15 for the Hornets.
“Coming into the game, I was really concerned about the way they offensive rebound,” Grant said. “They’re really athletic, they’re great in transition, they get out. So we knew number one, we had to be able to stop them in transition. And then number two, when they shot the ball, they really crash and they go get it.”
Grant added that ten offensive rebounds out of around 30 misses was a “little higher percentage of their misses than we would have liked.”
“But I thought for the most part we did a good job.”
Grant, on free throws: “That’s something that we want to do. We want to see if we can shoot more free throws than our opponents every game and we’ve been pretty good in terms of our ability to get to the line. I think it’s great to see 85 percent from the free throw line. I think we’ve had games so we’ve kind of struggled from a percentage standpoint as a team, but I think we’ve got pretty good free throw shooter so yeah, it’s good to see not only the number that we that we took but the number of makes that went in today.”
Grant was able to sub in seniors Christian Wilson and Drew Swerlein, and freshman walk-on Brady Uhl in the final minutes.
With the 39-point win, the Flyers go into their home game against Northern Illinois on Saturday at 2 p.m. with plenty of momentum.