DAYTON, Ohio – Delaware State's first game against a ranked team this season proved one thing to senior guard Casey Walker.
"I feel like we're in every game we play," he said.
After a close first half, the Hornets fell behind by 20 points in the second half at No. 25 Dayton. They tried to rally late, but the Flyers had enough to hold on for a 56-46 victory Wednesday night.
Delaware State succeeded at slowing the game to a crawl compared to the pace Dayton is used to playing. The Hornets worked the shot clock to 20 seconds before attacking the defense. Most of their shots came with under 10 seconds left, including several in the final 5 seconds.
"We knew talent-wise we could not match up with this team," Delaware State coach Greg Jackson said. "So we wanted to pretty much shorten up the game and limit their possessions. I thought we did a great job of that, but more importantly I thought we did a great job on the defensive end."
Dayton (7-1) finally found some rhythm in the slow-paced game with a 14-2 run that pushed its lead to 50-30 with 7:51 to play. Delaware State (2-6) responded with consecutive 3-pointers by Tyshawn Bell to spark a 9-0 surge. The Hornets cut the lead to 54-46 with 1:32 left before Dayton finished it off.
"That was a good basketball team," Walker said. "But I thought the style we played allows us to play with anybody because we play slow and move the ball around. Like Coach (Jackson) said, if we've got the ball they don't have the ball and can't score."
Dayton entered the game shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range, but went only 2 of 14. The Flyers also came in shooting 72.9 percent from the free throw line but made only 14 of 27.
"They did a few things to get us out of our comfort zone, so you have to give them a little bit of credit," said Flyers center Matt Kavanaugh, who scored a team-high 11 points. "All that matters to us is the win. It might have looked a little bit sloppy, but a sloppy win's better than an exciting loss."
Dayton played its first game as a ranked team since 2009 and looked jet-lagged from its trip to the Maui Invitational last week. It was the Flyers' first game back home since a third-place finish in Maui, and it was that tournament performance that elevated them into the Top 25. They defeated then-No. 11 Gonzaga and California and were a tip-in away from beating then-No. 18 Baylor.
"Anytime you come off the road swing that we came off with a week off between games, you're never real sure what you're going to get," Dayton coach Archie Miller said.
The Hornets shot 31.6 percent from the field in the first half but only trailed 28-21 at halftime. Eight points and a pair of 3-pointers from Walker kept them close.
Dayton jumped out to a 10-0 lead, with Kavanaugh running the floor for two layups to spark the run. Delaware State countered with a 10-2 spurt to cut it to 12-10 with 10:56 left in the half.
Despite the tight score, Miller said his team was efficient. The Flyers got near the basket often, and the Hornets kept sending them to the foul line. It turned out to be a good strategy — Dayton shot only 8 of 17 from the line in the half.
Bell and Walker led Delaware State with 14 points each, but leading scorer and center Kendall Gray was held to two points in 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
"Anytime you lose a guy on the defensive end where he is such a big presence for us hurts," Jackson said. "He got into early foul trouble and that kind of took him away from the offensive end of the floor. But I thought he came back in and was a good defensive presence, especially the last 7 or 8 minutes of the ballgame. We definitely need him in there to have that type of success."