Hagan Arena in Philadelphia played host to a pivotal Atlantic 10 clash that pitted conference-leading Dayton against fifth-place Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday night.
After suffering its first conference loss at co-leader Richmond to close out January, the Flyers arrived on Hawk Hill with back-to-back home wins over George Washington and St. Bonaventure.
For St. Joe’s, who was selected fifth in the A10 preseason poll, it’s been an up-and-down season that’s featured wins over Villanova and Princeton, as well as losses to Texas A&M-Commerce and Saint Louis.
Highlighting the parity within this conference, St. Joe’s soared out to a 15-5 lead by the first media timeout, led by an early eight points from Cameron Brown.
Extending the lead out to 21-10 at the under-12 break, the Hawks opened the night shooting 5-for-8 from three with Brown a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor for 11 early points.
From there, Dayton scored 13 unanswered and briefly grabbed their first lead of the contest at 24-23 with junior guard Kobe Elvis leading the offensive effort.
The Hawks answered with the next five points to re-establish an advantage. A three from Enoch Cheeks pulled the Flyers back within one just before halftime. To once again ignite the Hawk fans, Rasheer Fleming hit a last-second three pushing St. Joe’s ahead 38-34 at the halftime buzzer.
In the first half, St. Joe’s moved the ball well, created open looks from three and played solid physical defense outside of the 13-0 Flyers run. They limited Dayton’s leading scorer in DaRon Holmes II to just six points.
Dayton received contributions across the starting lineup to weather St. Joe’s early shooting success, and returned the favor by finishing the half at 40% from 3-point range to the Hawks 37%.
Early into the second half though, it was all Flyers as Elvis drained a three almost immediately out of the halftime locker room to cut the lead within one.
Brown answered with a 3-point jumper to set the score at 41-37 in favor of St. Joe’s with 19:26 on the clock, but by the under-16 timeout, the Flyers had managed a 10-0 run.
That six-point lead at 47-41 quickly blossomed into a double-digit advantage at the second media timeout as the St. Joe’s student-section went quiet and the Flyers saw contributions from Cheeks, Elvis and Nate Santos.
By the under-8 timeout, the Hawks had contrasted that first half 5-for-8 start from 3-point land by going 1-for-9 to open the second. As a result, Dayton pulled ahead 65-48.
Attempting to route a late comeback, St. Joe’s brought the lead within 13 just prior to the under-4 timeout and pulled inside 10 with just under a minute in regulation.
In the end, it was too little, too late from the Hawks, and Dayton claimed a 94-79 win behind 21 points from Santos, 19 of which came in the second half. Kobe Elvis matched that with with a double-double of 21 points and 10 assists.
On a night in which the Flyers had five double-digit scorers it’s the defensive performance that deserves attention, best emphasized by the effort on Erik Reynolds II, who was averaging 17.3 PPG as the Hawks leading-scorer. The Flyers held him to just six points on 2-for-11 shooting.
For Dayton head coach Anthony Grant, after battling through the early barrage of buckets from SJU, that defensive set the tone to help the Flyers strong start in the second half.
“We were able to weather that storm early,” Grant said. “I thought after that we were able to chip away and put ourselves in a good position. In the second half, we did a great job of being aggressive and defensively [that allowed] us to take away some of the stuff that was hurting us early.”
However, particularly in the first half, St. Joe’s offered competitive stretches led by Brown who finished with 19 points and five boards, alongside Lynn Greer III with 18 points and four assists.
While this Hawks squad is still fairly young with just one senior playing consistent minutes, Grant knew this matchup would pose a major challenge for the Flyers on the road.
“We knew today was going to be a very challenging environment to come into,” he said. “That’s a very talented, very well-coached team. They came out early with great energy, made shots and built a lead, but our guys showed great resiliency.”
The Hawks are bolstered by one of the conference’s best backcourt rotations and could be a dark horse contender come early March.
“You need to have a maturity and a discipline to just kind of hang in because you go through lulls [on the court],” St. Joe’s head coach Billy Lange said. “We’ve got to try and keep it a little bit closer when you’re going through those lulls against a really good team, and we were not able to do that. That’s a credit to Dayton. They were a big part of that.”
Following the win over St. Joe’s, Dayton is solely atop the conference standings with a tough road battle against fourth-place VCU awaiting the Flyers on Friday.
After falling to the Rams in last season’s A10 Championship final, this will undoubtedly be another significant test for Dayton in hopes of garnering that illustrious NCAA Tournament bid.
St. Joe’s will look to stay in the top half of the conference with a return matchup against Saint Louis on Saturday.