Dayton Flyers forward Josh Cunningham would be a senior this season if he had stayed at Bradley. He won’t graduate until next year, he said Saturday, so fans worrying he might take advantage of the grad transfer rule can breathe easy.
Cunningham will be a redshirt senior in the 2018-19 season and, based on his performance this season, a strong candidate for Atlantic Player of the Year. Fifth-year seniors sometimes feel like old men. That won’t be the case for Cunningham.
“Not really because I’m kind of young, so I could still be a junior,” he said. “I just turned 21.”
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Cunningham was one of the question marks entering this season, not because of his ability but because of his health. An ankle injury limited him 11 games last season, his first on the court in Dayton. He wasn’t the same player when he returned to the rotation in mid-February. However, last summer, he said he was ready to go and stronger than ever.
That has proven to be the case. Cunningham was Dayton’s most valuable player in the regular season, edging Darrell Davis in scoring (466-463, or 15.5 points per game to 15.4) and leading the team in rebounding (8.3). He and Davis were the only players to start all 30 games.
Cunningham was also one of the most efficient scorers in the country. He ranks seventh in the nation in 2-point field-goal percentage (70.4).
Cunningham was an easy choice for MVP. Of course, the season’s not over. Dayton (14-16) plays Virginia Commonwealth (17-14) at noon Thursday in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Here’s a rundown of some other Dayton awards and a look back at the regular season.
Top freshman: Point guard Jalen Crutcher led the freshman class with 9.2 points per game. He averaged 4.3 assists, which ranks as the second-best mark by a freshman in school history, trailing Juwan Staten (5.4 in 2010-11). Crutcher’s 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks third among freshmen.
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Most improved: This is a tough call between Darrell Davis and Trey Landers. Davis increased his scoring average from 5.5 to 15.4. Landers gets the award because of how big of a jump he made after playing only 52 minutes last season. He averaged 3.0 points in nine games last season and has averaged 11.1 points per game and 5.4 rebounds this season. He averaged 28.5 minutes per game and started all but two games. He shot 58.6 percent from the field.
Long-range accuracy award: Freshman Jordan Davis made 54 of 135 3-pointers (40 percent). He ranks fourth in school history in 3-pointers made by a freshman.
Lifetime achievement award: Darrell Davis, Dayton’s only senior scholarship player, will move into a tie for eighth place with Devin Searcy for most games played in Dayton history when he plays Thursday. That will be his 130th appearance. With six more points, he will become the 48th player in Dayton history to score 1,000 points.
Steve McElvene Award for blocks: Early in the season, it appeared as if Kostas Antetokounmpo might challenge McElvene’s single-season blocks record of 55. He fell well short but still led Dayton with 29 blocked shots.
Walk-on of the year: Junior guard Jack Westerfield made 10 appearances and played a total of 46 minutes. He even received meaningful action in a handful of games late in the season.
Best performance: Dayton set school records for points in the first half (66) and 3-pointers made (17) in a 106-79 victory against VCU on Jan. 12 at UD Arena.
Worst performance: Dayton’s most lopsided loss came at Rhode Island (81-56), and it also lost big at St. Joseph’s (81-65) and George Mason (85-67). Its worst performance, however, considering the opponent, came at La Salle on Feb. 28. Dayton trailed by as many as 25 points and lost 71-53 to a team that finished tied for 10th.
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Best game: Dayton lost 86-82 at Massachusetts in double overtime on Feb. 3. A 3-pointer by Luwane Pipkins with 55 seconds left in the second overtime proved to be the big shot. Officials ruled he got the shot off just before the shot-clock buzzer expired, though one angle from the other end of the court seemed to prove otherwise.
Best finish: The Flyers beat Ball State 78-77 in the season opener on Nov. 4 when Xeyrius Williams lobbed an in-bounds pass to Josh Cunningham under the basket. Cunningham scored with 0.1 seconds to play.
Worst finish: Dayton rallied from a 21-point deficit in the second half at Mississippi State on Dec. 3 only to lose 61-59 when Darrell Davis turned the ball over with four seconds to play and Quinndary Weatherspoon scored on a layup with 0.8 seconds left.
A-10 second round: Dayton vs. VCU, noon, NBC Sports Network, FM 95.7, AM 1290