DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Chris Johnson scored 13 points and Dayton used a 19-1 second-half run to pull away and beat Illinois State 63-42 in the opening round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
Chris Wright grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Dayton (21-12) to a 42-27 advantage on the boards. The Flyers will play at Cincinnati in the second round.
"How we went out there and played today and how we approached this tournament was really more a test of our character and pride in who we are and what we do," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "I didn't have any doubt how they would respond."
Dayton was coming off a conference tournament loss to Xavier that was typical of many of its losses this season. The Flyers squandered a 15-point lead in the second half, but this time the formula of a deep bench, relentless man-to-man defense and rebounding worked. The Flyers held the Redbirds to 33.3 percent shooting.
Osiris Eldridge, the Missouri Valley Conference's leading scorer, shot only 4 of 15 but led the Redbirds (22-11) with 12 points.
Dayton saw its 13-point lead cut to 42-37 with 10:27 to play, but Johnson started the Flyers' huge run with a 3-pointer.
Four minutes later, Marcus Johnson hit a 3-pointer and a pull-up jumper on consecutive trips to put the Flyers up 54-38 with 6:07 left. Dayton scored the next seven points before Eldridge hit a 3-pointer to end a nearly eight-minute field-goal drought for the Illinois State.
"We really defended well and rebounded well," Dayton's Chris Wright said. "That's a team that never quits. Down the stretch we knew we were going to have to play a lot harder."
Gregory said his players studied film more than usual the past couple days and were ready for Eldridge and point guard Lloyd Phillips.
"Yes, we had a very poor offensive night and certainly we had some shots that could have easily fallen," Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. "But over time, they deserve a lot of credit because they keep a great deal of pressure on you. They're very athletic and they're very deep. And it's a good recipe."