The Dayton Flyers flew to California last week as a work in progress. They returned home Monday as a more polished group, one that seems capable of winning any, if not all, of the remaining six non-conference games.
Three games in four days at the Wooden Legacy gave coach Archie Miller all the information he needs on a team that changed with the loss of injured Josh Cunningham.
“We needed to play games,” Miller said. “We needed to get it on film. We need to see it. We needed to learn.”
Dayton finished 2-1 in the tournament. It lost 80-78 to Nebraska on Thanksgiving but beat Portland 84-74 on Friday and scored the last eight points Sunday to beat New Mexico 64-57 in the fifth-place game.
Dayton ended the tournament with two of its best defensive efforts of the season. Nebraska shot 56.9 percent from the field. Portland shot 40 percent. New Mexico shot 40.7.
“We’re learning how to play together with different lineups for the first time,” Miller said. “It felt like we improved every game: from Nebraska, where we played very poorly and didn’t play with any toughness, to responding with a very short turnaround against Portland, and then we had a day off to prepare for a very talented New Mexico, a big team. I think we started to show the energy, the toughness, the little things defensively that we’re going to need to do as the season continues. You had guys playing together for longer stretches. They’re starting to trust one another a little more. Guys are starting to be more confident.”
Miller provided good news Wednesday on the status of senior guard Charles Cooke, who leads the Flyers in scoring with 19.7 points per game. He left the game in the first half Sunday with a groin injury but returned in the second half and hit two go-ahead free throws with 45 seconds remaining to start the game-winning 8-0 run.
Cooke will be available when the Flyers (4-2) play Winthrop (3-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena.
“From what I’ve heard, Charles is a little bit sore after the trip,” Miller said. “It was a long road back on Monday. We had yesterday off. The game was early. It’s been two and a half days. He’s ready to go this week.”
Injured senior forward Kendall Pollard has also shown signs of improvement as he fights his way back from a thigh bruise.
“I think his progress is going to start to be pushed a little forward,” Miller said. “He started to do a little individual work at the end of last week and the beginning of this week. The hope is he starts to practice a little bit and we’ll see how he does. I wouldn’t expect him to be available against Winthrop, but I do expect him to start to elevate his progress.
“If we can get him back in shape, that’s the biggest thing, to build his conditioning so he can start practicing regularly and hopefully not have any setbacks. We do anticipate having him available for some practices coming up.”
Winthrop at Dayton, FS Ohio, FM 95.7, AM 1290 WHIO