Dayton climbed as high as 14th in the AP poll last season before injuries sent it reeling. After breaking into the Top 25 for first time in 2008-09, the Flyers seem focused on avoiding a similar fate despite losing top reserve Rob Lowery for the season.
Dayton tries to maintain its spot in the poll as well as sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 on Saturday when it visits St. Louis.
The No. 25 Flyers (23-3, 9-2) broke into the rankings on Monday after recording two home wins last week, 71-58 over then-No. 14 Xavier on Feb. 11 and 69-63 over Richmond last Saturday.
Dayton has been idle since that game, in which its bench outscored Richmond’s reserves 21-10 despite playing for the first time since losing Lowery to season-ending surgery for a torn knee tendon. Lowery, who got hurt in the first half versus the Musketeers, is third on the team with 7.5 points per game and second with 3.4 assists despite averaging the sixth-most minutes (18.2).
Helping make up for Lowery’s absence last Saturday were sophomore Chris Wright, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and London Warren with 10 points and six assists. The Flyers never trailed after the opening two minutes.
“It was a good overall team effort,” starting forward Kurt Huelsman said. “Everybody stepped up and did what they needed to do. We all had to with Rob being out.”
The Flyers’ win without Lowery was a good sign for their chances of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. Dayton was ranked for four weeks last season after a 14-1 start before injuries led to the Flyers losing eight of 11 and settling for the NIT.
Coach Brian Gregory said this season’s team is more balanced than the one in 2007-08, making the ranking special.
“This is great for the program and great for the conference,” he said. “I’m really pleased for our kids because even moreso than last year, this is for our body of work as a team.”
Gregory’s team moved alone atop the Atlantic 10 when Xavier—now a half-game back in second place—was upset 65-50 by Charlotte on Thursday.
One team chasing the Flyers is Saint Louis (16-10, 7-5), which could move within 1 1/2 games of first place with a victory Saturday.
While Dayton has won nine of 10, the Billikens have some momentum of their own with five victories in their last six. That stretch has followed a 47-46 defeat at Dayton on Jan. 29, when Lowery fed Marcus Johnson for an alleyoop dunk with 1:06 left to give the Flyers the lead for good.
Dayton has won the last five meetings, but two have gone to overtime and another ended in double overtime.
The Flyers were held to 32.7 percent from the field and missed all 11 of their 3-point tries last month against the Billikens, but have shot 47.5 percent from beyond the arc this month and 48.7 from the floor over the last three games.
Saint Louis has shot a combined 50.0 percent in six games this month—48.3 from 3-point range. Kwamain Mitchell’s career-high five 3-pointers and 17 points helped the Billikens beat St. Joseph’s 73-71 on Wednesday despite allowing the Hawks to shoot 57.1 percent.
Saint Louis improved to 13-2 at home, including 5-1 in conference games, but those wins were by an average of 4.6 points.
Dayton is 5-4 in road games, losing its last one to Charlotte and winning each of the previous two against George Washington and La Salle by two points.