Sophomore forward Toumani Camara (No. 2) drives to the basket for a layup during the Flyers 10-point win Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
After falling behind by seven at halftime, the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team outscored the UIC Flames by 17 in a 64-54 win in the season opener at UD Arena Tuesday night.
In front of the first sold-out and full crowd since March 7, 2020, the Flyers went on an early 10-0 run after trailing 5-4 to take a 14-5 lead with 11:24 left in first half.
“I thought the first four minutes of the game, we looked gassed,” Flyers head coach Anthony Grant said. “The pace was going up and down, both teams were playing really hard.”
The run was puncuated by a driving layup by freshman guard Malachi Smith on a feed from Toumani Camara after the sophomore forward grabbed an offensive rebound. During the run, the Flames also made just one of ten field goals.
The Flames went on their own quick run, making 3 straight field goals to cut the deficit to five and force a UD timeout with just under ten minutes left in the first half.
“And you can see guys heaving, and they were getting tired, so we subbed quickly,” Grant said. “We got some guys in and they ended up, on around maybe about the 10-minute mark where they were able to get three straight baskets, I called the timeout to try to settle guys down and let them understand, here’s what we need to try to do.”
Led by sophomore guard R.J. Blakney, who had eight points to lead six different UD scorers as the Flyers took a 23-13 lead into the under-8 media timeout with 7:11 left.
“I thought the first 12 mintues of the game we did a really good job defensively of understanding what we had to do for the three-point line guarding them,” Grant said.
From that point until halftime, though, the Flames went on a 19-2 run, capped by a buzzer-beating three-pointer from senior forward Zion Griffin to give the Flames a 32-25 lead at the break. At halftime, the Flyers were just 11-27 from the field, 1-10 from three and 2-8 from the free throw line.
“And then I thought we built up the 10-point lead then then we had a lot of (mistakes) offensively,” Grant said. “Where we were missing layups, missing open shots, missing free throws, and you see this with a young team. Sometimes they let what happens on the offensive end affect what’s going on in the defensive end.”
In the second half, the Flyers woke up slowly but surely. They trimmed the deficit to three with 15:51 left in the second half, but the Flames responded with a 10-2 run to grab a 44-35 lead with 11:17 left in the game.
At this points in the game, the Flames were 40 percent from three while the Flyers were just 10 percent.
But it was the Flyers turn to go on a run, as they turned the game around and tied it at 46 with scoring from sophomore forward Mustapha Amzil, Camara, freshman guard Kobe Elvis, Blakney and redshirt junior Elijah Weaver.
When UIC called timeout with seven minutes left, the Flyers had gone on a 15-2 run and taken a 50-46 lead as UD Arena reached peak volume.
“I think everybody knew what happened,” Blakney said. “It’s the fans. The fans definitely helped us and our habits (helped too), but I really say that the fans was so loud that we weren’t tired anymore. Whatever tiredness we had, it was gone. The fans really helped us and we just played hard.”
The score held and the media timeout arrived with 6:43 remaining. But it was too late for the Flames, as the Flyers crowd raucously roared after every big play. A block by freshman forward DaRon Holmes II initiated the timeout and sent the decibel levels even higher.
After transferring from Georgia, Camara said the UD Arena crowd was different.
“I can’t compare (Georgia) to here, it’s a different feeling,” Camara said. “I think it was huge. They (the fans) really help us, their energy was just crazy. I’ve never been to an environment like that and I can’t wait to play for them throughout the whole year.”
Over the next two-and-a-half minutes, the Flyers increased their run to 19-0, held the Flames to 6:46 of game time without a point, and took a 56-46 lead, forcing UIC to call timeout and initiate the media timeout with 3:58 left.
“Offensively, we had to find a rhythm,” Grant said. “So in the second half that rhythm came through being able to got inside, we were able to establish inside and get to the free throw line and be able to get a rhythm offensively.”
At this point, the Flyers had five scorers with at least eight points, and were up to 8-10 from the free throw line in the second half and the Flames had committed 12 personal fouls in 16 minutes of action since halftime.
The Flyers were able to see out the rest of the game, holding on to their 10-point lead and starting the season with a 64-54 win.
“I thought the last 12 minutes, defensively, the guys did an unbelievable job,” Grant said. “I think the last 11 minutes we gave up 10 points. I thought that run from about the 12 minute, 11 minute mark to about the four-minute mark really kind of won the game for us. So a lot of lessons in this game that we’ll be able to learn on both sides of the ball.”
Camara finished with a double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds), Elvis added 10 points and six rebounds, and Holmes II and Blakney had nine points each.
“(Versatility is) very important,” Blakney said. “We got a lot of guys that can do many things. We can switch pretty much one through four, one through five. So that’s a big plus for us. And we got a lot of talent and we still haven’t played to our full potential.”
Blakney also finished with a plus/minus of +26, nine more than the next closest, Holmes II.
“I thought he (Blakney) did a great job defensively,” Grant said. “(UIC) had a variety of guys that we were concerned about… We had different guys matched up with different people, I thought R.J. has the ability to be a versatile defender for us. Toumani’s ability to be a versatile defender for us. There were times tonight where we had to switch Duece (Camara) onto some smaller guys. So I thought we got a lot of really good efforts on the defensive end tonight from a variety of people.”
In the second half, the Flyers outrebounded the Flames 22-9, shot 12-15 on free throws, and held the Flames to 8-26 shooting from the field.
“(Rebounding is) something we need to do because we’re a really young team,” Camara said. “So it’s rebounding and play defense, it’s all about effort. For the young guys, it’s really hard and I’ve been there so I know. And it’s just being able to keep on reminding them. Based on that, I think we did a better job on that all second half for sure.”
With the win, the Flyers start 1-0 and move into preparation for UMass-Lowell on Saturday at 6 p.m. at UD Arena.