Minutemen prep for Dayton

  • Chris Baldwin and UMass head to Dayton today at noon to face a Flyers team the Minutemen have not won at since 2008. Recorder File photo

For The Recorder
Friday, January 05, 2018

If UMass and Dayton were in different leagues, Matt McCall and Anthony Grant would probably talk more often.

They were assistant coaches together under Billy Donovan at Florida, and McCall looks at Grant as both a mentor and a friend. Both are in their first year in Atlantic 10 jobs, taking over programs that lost a lot of players from last season.

Both have had up-and-down seasons. There’s plenty to compare and commiserate about.

But especially now, with conference play underway and the Minutemen and Flyers scheduled to play twice, including today at noon, communications has slowed.

“When you’re in the same league, it’s challenging. This is like playing against my dad tomorrow,” McCall said. “I have the utmost respect for Anthony. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

McCall expected Dayton, which has historically been one of the A-10’s top teams, to get back there with Grant.

“I know the job he’s going to do there is going to be through the roof,” he said. “The first year is hard. No matter what school you’re at, there’s an enormous amount of challenges in year one.”

While UMass (7-8, 0-2 Atlantic 10) arrived in Ohio having lost three of its last four games, the Flyers (7-7, 1-1) are coming off their best win of the season, beating St. Bonaventure, 82-72, Wednesday at UD Arena. Dayton’s 2-0 against teams UMass has played. It also beat Georgia State, 88-83, in overtime.

Darrell Davis had 28 points and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-5 senior guard averaged just 5.5 points per game last year in a reserve role, but now he leads the Flyers with 17.5 points per game and averages 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

“He’s terrific. He can beat you in so many different ways,” McCall said. “He shoots it from the perimeter and is one of the better guards in our league, no question. We have to make sure we do a good job on him and make sure we don’t let him get into a rhythm offensively. The last two games, guards have gotten into a rhythm offensive against us (St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley and George Mason’s Otis Livingston II). We have to learn from that.”

Josh Cunningham, a Bradley transfer who missed much of last season with an injury, has been what Dayton had hoped he’d be. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 15.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

“He can post up off the block, make moves off the bounce,” McCall said. “He’s shooting 33.3 percent from the 3-point line. If the shot clock winds down and he steps out, he’s fully capable.”

Freshman big man Khalea Turner-Morris, who missed Wednesday’s game with an illness practiced Friday and is expected to be available Saturday.

UMass hasn’t won at Dayton since 2008, but McCall has been victorious there more recently. His Chattanooga squad surprised the Flyers, 61-59 on Dec. 12, 2015, his ninth game as a head coach.