In a season highlighted by so much change, it was a familiar face that stole the night when forward Josh Cunningham rose up and hit a hook shot with less that a second left to give the Flyers a 78-77 win over Ball State in the first game of the season.
Cunningham finished with 22 points but none more important than his last 2.
After Dayton relinquished their lead with 2.6 seconds remaining, Xeyrius Williams lobbed an inbound halfway across the court to Cunningham, who split two defenders and laid in the winner. The jump hook to fell as the buzzer sounded to send UD Arena into an uproar.
“It was a great pass from X. It was an amazing pass, it was right on the key,” Cunningham commented after the game. “As soon as I turned around, I was like ‘Alright, I do this all the time,’ and then just go ahead and try to put the ball in the basket.”
Out of the gate, the Flyers’ defense was stifling as it took Ball State a whole six minutes to get their first basket while UD jumped out to an early 14-0 lead.
“We played hard,” said head coach Anthony Grant about the run. “We weren’t necessarily guarding the way we talk about needing to guard. But guys made the extra effort, played really hard, and came up with some big defensive plays.”
The early run was highlighted by a huge block from sophomore guard Trey Landers, and two three pointers by Williams.
The rest of the first half saw Ball State inch their way back into the game on the back of their three-point barrage. At the half, they were five-for-16 from beyond the arc, and had cut Dayton’s lead to just three, 36-33.
Ball State’s hot shooting continued into the second half as they were able to pull ahead by 7 points early on. Senior guard Darrell Davis made a huge statement to get the Flyers back ahead scoring eight straight points, including a three-point shot from the corner that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“I was feeling it a little bit. Coach Grant said to be patient with the offense and it would come to me,” Davis said after the game.
The rest of the second half was back and forth. The Flyers were able to pull ahead by seven with two and a half minutes to play, but Ball State went on a run and closed the deficit to one point. And with three seconds on the clock, Ball State’s Taylor Persons made a layup to put the Cardinals ahead 77-76.
But luckily for the Flyers, Williams’ and Cunningham’s heroics salvaged the effort.
“We have a lot to learn, but I’m glad we get to learn through winning,” Grant said in a huff of relief after his first official game.
Although the thrilling finish was only made possible by some cold stretches on the part of the Flyers, the electric atmosphere brought back warm memories for Grant, who played on the same court during his college days.
“To hear the building explode the way it did at the end, I cherish every moment of it,” Grant said.
The Flyers continue their season on Nov. 16 against Hofstra in the Gildan Charleston Classic.
Photos Courtesy of Joe Miller/Staff Photographer