The Atlantic 10 showed why it is one of the most competitive conferences in the country Friday, when Dayton (12-3, 3-0) and Rhode Island battled for 40 minutes, with the Flyers pulling out a 67-64 win at home.
Coming off back-to-back conference wins of 30-plus points, the Rams visited a hostile UD Arena, filled to the brim with a Flyers faithful that opted to don blue latex gloves in order to enhance the volume of its clapping (I’m not kidding).
Rhody showed superior physicality in the paint early. A nearly healthy Hassan Martin, who was still playing limited minutes after a quad injury kept him out for most of December, joined Kuran Iverson in the front court. These two defensive monoliths contested every early Dayton shot in the post.
Iverson led the Rams offensively, scoring a team-high 14 points on the night.
After a hot start by URI, Dayton had run of its own to limit the Rams to a 27-25 halftime lead.
URI showed its commitment to the three early. In Tuesday’s game against Saint Joseph’s, the Rams shot 16-30 from beyond the arc. On Friday, they shot 10-21 from distance.
With the Flyers’ leading scorer, Charles Cooke, missing his second straight game with wrist and back injuries, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard picked up the slack.
Smith controlled the tempo of the offense, and came up with big plays. He stuffed the stat sheet, scoring a game-high 21 points and adding five rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
Friday was also Kendall Pollard’s 22nd birthday:
When its ya birthday and gameday!! ESPN 2 @ 6/7:00 ☝ pic.twitter.com/p1BtKxNk7a— Kendall Pollard (@__KP) January 6, 2017
He celebrated by dropping 18 points and grabbing five rebounds.
The second half was as competitive as the first, as the lead flipped back and forth throughout.
Powered by their backcourt and the loud rubberized clapping, the Flyers went on an 11-0 run late in the second stanza.
But URI fought its way back.
Smith was stealing the show, and E.C. Matthews had something to say about that:
This block by E.C. Matthews sends us into the under-4 timeout trailing Dayton 57-54... 3:43 remaining pic.twitter.com/N4kEKQp1s1— Rhody MBB (@RhodyMBB) January 7, 2017
In addition to volleyballing Smith’s transition layup, Matthews hit a three-pointer with one minute to play to cut Dayton’s lead to one.
But Dayton’s decibel amplification strategy succeeded, and Flyers fans doffed their probably sweaty rubber hand covers with a smile as their team left the court with a win.
This was Dayton’s fifth straight win, and the Flyers now sit atop the A-10 with a 12-3 record and three conference victories.