Richmond introduced a live tarantula spider mascot in 2015. The spider named Tarrant watched Richmond and the Dayton Flyers warm up Tuesday at the Robins Center from a glass box on the court. It even had its own little basketball.
Those arachnaphobes in attendance would been wise to look away. Then again, the same could be said for all Richmond fans this season. The Spiders own the worst record in the Atlantic 10. They were the perfect opponent for a Dayton team looking for a victory of any sort.
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“We hit some adversity,” sophomore guard Trey Landers said, “but for us to get our first actual road game, it’s big.”
“It felt good to get this one, especially on the road,” redshirt junior forward Josh Cunningham said. “I just think it can get us going.”
Dayton was 1-1. It was 2-2, then 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7 and now 8-8. It lost previous road games at Mississippi State, Saint Mary’s and Duquesne. Here are four reasons Dayton won the first game of the second half of the season:
1. Landers stepped up again: Six days after he scored a career-high 17 points in an 82-72 victory against St. Bonaventure, the Wayne grad Landers scored 18. He made 7 of 12 shots from the field and 3 of 3 free throws. He led the team in minutes played (38) and rebounds (9).
Landers had the biggest basket of the night as well. His putback after a miss by John Crosby with 42 seconds left gave Dayton an 82-77 lead.
“I’m just playing,” Landers said. “I give all my credit to my teammates. They’re finding me. As far as scoring. I don’t really go into games thinking about that. I just play my game.”
2. Cunningham dominated: Cunningham scored 20 points on 8-of-8 shooting. It’s the third time this season he hasn’t missed a shot. Cunningham moved from 11th to ninth in the country in two-point field-goal percentage (75.0).
The Flyers did a better job of getting the ball to Cunningham and other players in the post. They made 7 of 19 3-pointers. They hadn’t shot fewer than 20 3-pointers since the season opener when they made 4 of 16 against Ball State.
Cunningham said Dayton talked about trying harder to get the ball down to low to take advantage of mismatches. Dayton outscored Richmond 44-18 in the paint.
“We try to get it to everybody in the post,” Cunningham said.
Dayton shot 63.5 percent from the field tonight. That's its best percentage since at least 2010. The Flyers also made 14 of 15 free throws. pic.twitter.com/ucetK3DtOo— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) January 10, 2018
3. Dayton had its best offensive game: The Flyers shot 63.5 percent from the field (33 of 52). It’s the first time it has topped 60 percent this season, and it’s the best single-game shooting performance by the team since at least 2010.
Richmond had something to do with that. The Spiders rank 325th in the country in opponents’ effective field-goal percentage.
“Our defense really took a huge step back today,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “We weren’t able to guard Dayton in either half. We tried to be aggressive and get turnovers because we were having a hard time stopping them, and we did some of that but not quite enough. We couldn’t string together near enough stops.”
4. The Flyers put their last loss behind them: Dayton fell 62-60 at home Saturday to Massachusetts. It was the most disappointing loss in the season for a number of reasons, one being that UMass was playing without two suspended starters.
It was probably a good thing Dayton had only two days to dwell on that defeat. Grant liked the team’s focus in practice Sunday and Monday, and it showed in the first half when Dayton led by as many as 12 points.
The Flyers pushed the lead to 15 points early in the second half before Richmond rallied. Dayton had a one-possession lead four times in the last 11 minutes.
“Obviously you’re disappointed anytime you lose at home in front of your fans,” Grant said. “The thing is every day you get a chance to choose how you’re going to respond to that. I thought the last two days of practice, they responded well. The preparation we had played a good part in us being able to go out in the first half and build the lead we had and then show the resiliency to come out with the win. We’ve got to develop those habits on a daily basis. That’s the challenge for us.”