- By David Jablonski Staff Writer
Josh Cunningham knows all about Jordan Sibert’s buzzer-beater vs. IPFW, even if it came more about 19 months before he arrived on campus. Video of Sibert’s 3-pointer plays on a TV outside the locker room at UD Arena all the time.
Four years after that miracle play in the season opener, Cunningham provided his own unforgettable moment, kicking off the Anthony Grant era with a game-winning basket with 0.1 seconds to play against Ball State on Friday at UD Arena.
Xeyrius Williams threw an in-bounds pass to Cunningham with 1.9 seconds to play. Cunningham caught the ball under the basket between two defenders and didn’t hesitate before dropping it in the basket. Dayton’s 78-77 victory will go down as one of the most exciting games of the Grant era, no matter how long he coaches.
“It’s amazing,” Cunningham said. “We wanted to do it for coach Grant. He played here before. I know it means a lot to him.”
Cunningham, a redshirt junior forward who missed most of last season with an injury, is Dayton’s lone captain. He showed his leadership and talent in the season opener, scoring a team-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds. He played 33 minutes.
Ball State trailed 73-66 with 2:31 to play but went on an 11-3 run and took a 77-76 lead on a layup by Tayler Persons with 3 seconds to go. Dayton advanced the ball to mid-court and then almost turned it over on its first in-bounds play. There was a long delay as officials reviewed the play to see if the ball went off Ball State.
That may have helped Dayton, which drew up several versions of the game-winning play. Ball State also called a time-out before the final play. Cunningham said he was the second option.
“The first plan was to get Darrell (Davis) open,” Cunningham said. “His man stayed with him. The next plan was to try to get the ball into me on the post instead of lobbing it into me like that, but he had to lob it up and I had to jump up and go get it.”
Grant said Cunningham was the first option. The Flyers originally had John Crosby throwing the in-bounds pass, but Ball State switched a taller defender to guard the pass. Dayton switched Williams to the in-bounds play.
“We were looking at two options there,” Grant said. “Josh at the rim was the first option. We thought we had time for a catch and shoot if we could get it to him. Then the other option was Darrell coming to the top. We used him as a screener for (Jalen) Crutcher coming off the baseline to draw a little bit of attention. I don’t know if Darrell would have had a look had X not gone to Josh at the rim. I think X made a great decision. He gave Josh an opportunity on a jump ball. Josh was able to come down with it and had the presence of mind to finish.”
Grant became the seventh straight Dayton coach to win his first game. The Flyers have won 13 straight season openers in a row.
“We were fortunate to win,” Grant said. “A lot had to go our way with 1.9 left in the game. When you look at the sequence of events that took place, we were very fortunate to get the ball where it was with enough time to catch, pivot and score. The thing we talk about is we’re very happy we were able to win the game and in the process continue to learn and grow as a team and get better. That’s what we’ll be able to do.”