Coach Dan Hurley wasn’t talking about Frisch’s when he shouted to his Rhode Island players early in the first half, “This is a big-boy game!”
There was little doubt before the game Hurley’s Rams, dominated by a senior backcourt that ranks among the best in the nation, had the biggest — and also the oldest — boys in this game. There was also little doubt after the game. Rhode Island took control late in the first half against the Dayton Flyers and coasted to an 88-74 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 13,350 on Saturday at UD Arena.
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Rhode Island (15-3, 7-0) looked like the best team in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Dayton (9-10, 3-4) looked like a middle-of-the-pack team. In short, this game was what everyone expected.
“Dayton’s got some really exciting young players,” Hurley said. “It’s a little scary with Greek Freak Junior (Kostas Antetokounmpo) and (Jalen) Crutcher and (Jordan) Davis and what they’re going to look like down the road. We knew it was going to be a great crowd, great atmosphere, but we’re pretty battle tested.”
Here are five reasons Dayton lost its second game in a row and why the Rams are now riding a 10-game winning streak:
1. First-half run: Dayton hung with Rhode Island for 17 minutes. Momentum shifted to Rhode Island four minutes before halftime.
A free throw by E.C. Matthews began a 12-0 run. The Flyers missed three shots and committed three turnovers during Rhode Island’s run.
“I thought that was huge,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Obviously, we’re right there with the lead or a one-possession game. We weren’t able to sustain. Their stamina was better than ours at that point. We were tired at that point. Against a team like this, they just need a little bit of a light and they take advantage of it.”
2. Too many turnovers: The Flyers had six turnovers in the first six minutes, setting the tone for a sloppy night of ball-handling. They finished with 21 turnovers, their second-highest total of the season. Dayton’s turnovers and Rhode Island’s 12 offensive rebounds were the biggest difference in the game, Grant said.
“The cumulative effect of their pressure impacted the game,” Grant said.
Photos: Dayton Flyers vs. Rhode Island Rams https://t.co/rwmgxTgfgX— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) January 21, 2018
3. Rhode Island’s game plan: The Flyers shot 14 3-pointers, making four, three days after attempting a season-high 38 and making 13 in an 81-65 loss at St. Joseph’s.
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Part of that had to do with Rhode Island’s defense. The Rams wanted to limit Dayton’s 3-point attempts. They didn’t mind if Josh Cunningham dominated in the post — and he did, scoring a career-high 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting — as long as the Flyers weren’t getting open behind the arc.
“Honestly, we were willing to let Cunningham two us to death,” Hurley said. “We felt the only way we could lose here is if we gave up a lot of threes and we let Darrell Davis and Jordan Davis and Crutcher get going from 3. We didn’t think they could beat us with post twos and 15-footers.”
Rhode Island's Dan Hurley: "Honestly, we were willing to let Cunningham 2 us to death. We felt the only way we could lose here is if we gave up a lot of 3s." pic.twitter.com/E6482Egwu7— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) January 20, 2018
4. Strong guard play: Jared Terrell led the Rams with 24 points, making 9 of 17 shots. Matthews added 17. Jeff Dowtin had 11. Freshman Fatts Russell made 4 of 4 shots and scored 10.
The Rams made 6 of their last 7 shots in the last eight minutes, trading baskets with the Flyers and preventing Dayton from making any serious run.
“They’ve got a good team,” Grant said. “They’ve got depth. They were able to go with a small lineup that was really effective. They’ve got an eight- or nine-man rotation that they can throw at you. There’s no real drop-off in terms of what they come with.”
5. Senior struggles: Dayton’s lone senior, Darrell Davis, scored nine points in the first half. He tied Damon Goodwin’s school record for 36 straight made free throws in the first half but missed his 37th.
It was a different story for Davis in the second half. He made 1 of 4 shots from the field after halftime and scored two points. He picked up two offensive fouls in a two-minute span midway through the second half. He also committed five of his team-high eight turnovers in the half.
“He battled,” Grant said. “Darrell’s a competitor. Tonight wasn’t one of his finer performances with the eight turnovers, but give them credit. They loaded the box on him and made it difficult for him to get free.”