Josh Cunningham made 9 of 10 shots from the field and scored 20 points in the first game of his final season with the Dayton Flyers, showing no rust after missing the first two games with a wrist injury. The redshirt senior forward also had extra incentive to perform well.
For the second time in his career, Cunningham’s girlfriend, A’ja Wilson, the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year who stars for the Las Vegas Aces, saw him play in person. She saw him play a game against Richmond last season and was one of 13,004 fans in the stands at UD Arena on Friday as Dayton improved to 3-0 with a 90-81 victory against Purdue Fort Wayne.
Cunningham expected a post-game talk with Wilson about his play.
“She’s going to talk about my free throws,” Cunningham said with a laugh.
Cunningham made 2 of 6 free throws. That was the only negative on his stat line. He led the team in rebounds with eight and played 28 minutes. Coach Anthony Grant also praised his defensive performance in the second half as Dayton rallied from an eight-point deficit.
“It felt great just being back out there with my brothers,” Cunningham said. “I want to be out there at all times, but being on the bench and supporting them, that’s fun, too. It was great being between the lines with them.”
Cunningham and Wilson met when they were both visiting the University of South Carolina in high school. Wilson choose the Gamecocks and led them to a national championship as a junior in 2017. She was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft in May.
Although they make quite the basketball power couple, Cunningham confirmed they haven’t played one on one.
“We both are so busy,” Cunningham said. “We don’t have a chance to. It’s tough but we make do.”
“A’ja’s really cool, a great person, a fun person to be around,” Dayton guard Trey Landers said. “I told Josh, ‘She might beat you one on one.’ I think he’s scared.’”
Lineup decision: Cunningham moved back into the starting lineup, and Obi Toppin started his third straight game.
Ryan Mikesell came off the bench at least in part because he was dealing with a foot issue all week. He had 10 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.
“I thought he gave us a big-time boost in the second half,” Grant said. “We had him on a minutes restriction.”
» RECRUITING NEWS: Latest signing brings size to Dayton roster in 2019
Around the A-10: St. Joseph’s had the best start of any A-10 team through Thursday, beating Old Dominion, Monmouth and Wake Forest. The Hawks suffered their first loss Friday, 77-55 to Central Florida in the semifinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Charlie Brown leads St. Joseph’s with 22.3 points per game.
Looking ahead: Dayton plays Butler at 7 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN News) in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas. It will be the first Dayton regular-season game played in a foreign country.
Butler beat the Miami RedHawks 90-68 in its opener and then beat Detroit 84-63 and Mississippi 83-76 on Friday.
Dayton will play Middle Tennessee State (3-1) or Virginia (3-0) in the second game on Thanksgiving Day.