Anthony Grant stopped before leaving the court Nov. 21 after the Dayton Flyers beat Butler 69-64. He shook the hand of every player and every assistant coach as they walked toward the locker room — or the ballroom turned into a locker room at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.
That’s not something Grant does every game. That victory meant something extra. By beating a top-30 team, the Flyers raised the bar on what is possible this season. The next three games, also against highly-ranked teams, would tell even more about Grant’s team.
Now that those games — against Virginia, Oklahoma and Mississippi State — have passed without Dayton winning a single one, here’s what we know about the Flyers:
• They are not a top-50 team.
• They may not be an at-large NCAA tournament team.
• However, they can compete with teams in both of those categories.
Three straight losses — all to teams ranked in the top 40 of the Ken Pomeroy ratings through Saturday, all in games decided in the final minutes — show this team has talent but also a lot to learn about winning or more specifically closing out games.
Dayton’s biggest shortcoming, however, might be a roster short on depth. Injuries — if they happen and they almost always do — will hurt this team more than most. The absence of Jhery Matos, who is sidelined indefinitely with a toe injury, cost Dayton on Friday in a 65-58 loss to the No. 25 Bulldogs. The Flyers missed his defense most of all.
Now the Flyers (4-3) enter December with four home games they have to win, a neutral-court game against Tulsa in Connecticut they should win on Dec. 16 and a road game at Auburn on Saturday no one will expect them to win. First up is Detroit Mercy (3-5), which visits UD Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Here are five things to know about this game:
1. Avoiding mistakes: Although Dayton’s turnover numbers have fallen (13.7 to 11.9 per game) this season, in recent games it has shown a tendency to commit costly errors. Errant passes lead to easy baskets for the opponent.
Ryan Mikesell had one of those at the 5:49 mark in the second half Friday. It led to a dunk on the other end. That was the first basket in a 21-7 run by Mississippi State to end the game.
“We have to get to the point where we really understand the value of each possession on offense and defense,” Grant said. “We have to be in the moment. We can’t be too excited about a good play that happened two possessions ago and we’re not focused on this one, and we can’t be too upset about a bad play that just happened.”
2. Big scorer: Detroit brings the nation’s second-leading scorer to UD Arena. Freshman Antoine Davis, a 6-1 guard, averages 30 points per game. He set a school record for points scored by a freshman with 42 against Loyola Maryland.
Davis, a three-star recruit who originally committed to Houston, shoots 46.9 percent from 3-point range (46 of 98). The team ranks 26th in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (40.4).
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3. Familiar name: Davis is the son of first-year Detroit head coach Mike Davis, who is most well known for succeeding Bob Knight at Indiana in the 2000-01 season. He coached the Hoosiers for six years and then spent six years at Alabama-Birmingham and six at Texas Southern. Mike Davis has another son, Mike Davis Jr., who’s an assistant coach on his staff.
4. Common opponent: Dayton and Butler have both played Detroit. The Titans lost 84-63 at Butler on Nov. 12.
Detroit trailed 40-22 at halftime but opened the second half on an 18-4 run to cut the deficit to four points at the 14:49 mark. At that point, Butler started to pull away for good.
5. Struggling program: Dayton and Detroit played regularly for decades. In 1977, Detroit coach Dick Vitale ran to center court at UD Arena and danced with Detroit’s cheerleaders after his team upset the Flyers 65-63. He called it “the greatest road win” in his four seasons as head coach.
Despite that long history, Dayton and Detroit haven’t played in the regular season since 1995. The last two meetings, in 2001 and 2002, came in the NIT. Since a stretch of three 20-win seasons in four years, Detroit has gone through a stretch of one winning season in the last five.