Coming into last night, the Dayton Flyers were looking like a team to be reckoned with.
Despite missing their top scorer in Charles Cooke, the Flyers had just pulled off an incredible week of basketball. Thoroughly stomping a potent St. Bonaventure team was followed up by a statement win against a Rhode Island club many see as one of the A-10’s best. It seemed as though Dayton was getting itself back on course after an uneven non-conference performance earlier this year.
So, one would think a match-up against Massachusetts – a team looking for its first conference win in its fourth attempt – would be a perfect way to keep the Flyers’ momentum intact. After all, the win against the Rams seemed to tell everyone we needed to take this Dayton team seriously. Surely the youth-filled roster of the Minutemen wasn’t going to get in the way.
Turns out such a statement was only partially right. Massachusetts didn’t so much dominate last night’s game. Instead, Dayton committed so many mistakes it would’ve been stunning if its opponent didn’t cash in on them.
After easily their most impressive week of the season, the Flyers regressed in astronomical fashion in an at times heinous looking 67-55 defeat. As a result, it appears Dayton is once again struggling to convince us whether or not it’s for real.
Let’s get this out of the way now – nobody expected the Flyers to roll through their conference schedule, winning every game en route to a runaway first-place finish. Even after beating Rhode Island last Friday, you knew Dayton could still suffer from a letdown or two. On paper, at least, a loss to Massachusetts shouldn’t be a mind-blowing surprise.
The problem isn’t the loss, though. It’s how Dayton lost.
This game essentially involved the Flyers taking every positive from the previous week of excellent basketball and throwing it away. Consider it another turnover to add to the 19 the team committed last night.
Gone was the efficient and steady offense, replaced with a hot mess of awful shot selection and putrid ball security. Dayton didn’t look one bit like the composed team we saw last week. In its place was a group of players which reacted to a growing deficit by coming apart at the seams instead of powering through adversity like we’re used to seeing.
Spark plug guard Scoochie Smith got into foul trouble and made minimal impact. Forward Kendall Pollard was sloppy, generating just one more point (6) than he did turnovers (5). In his return from injury, Cooke was disjointed, shooting 3-for-11 with seven giveaways of his own. God willing, it was just rust.
You have to give this Dayton team credit. It seems as though any time these Flyers look ready to prove themselves as one of the best teams in the conference, they’re very quick to make you second guess.
Such a concept should sound familiar, since we witnessed the same kind of thing last year.
After storming through conference play with a 21-3 record, the wheels started coming off the wagon. The Flyers lost three of four, seemed to right the ship with several unconvincing and sometimes ugly wins, only to end their season with a brutal waxing at the hands of Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s too early to say this same class has approached a lull of that nature. Instead, consider it more evidence these Flyers tend to run into speed bumps right when you think they’re starting to hit their stride. There always seems to be that inexplicable trap they seem to fall into when you don’t expect it. A loss that makes you say “wait, how could you beat that team, but lose to this one?”
Luckily, Dayton has a chance to erase last night’s performance from its memory sooner rather than later. A Saturday afternoon visit to Duquesne sure seems like a great opportunity to get everything back on track.
Of course, whether or not that happens will depend on which Dayton team shows up. Will it be the group which rolled through its first three A-10 games, including the impressive defeat of Rhode Island, or the club which ran itself out of gym last night, showing the everyone it’s still incredibly susceptible to combining every possible hiccup all into one contest?
We’ll find out this weekend. Last week around this time the Flyers were telling us to take them seriously. Last night, we were told to hold that thought.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook