The Basketball Tournament: Red Scare halfway to $1 million prize

Jul. 28—Josh Cunningham got a high five and a hug from former teammate Obi Toppin, the most famous Red Scare fan and maybe the most enthusiastic. Cunningham embraced teammate C.J. Walker and coach Jeremiah Bonsu. He had the whole team draped over him at one point after his game-ending shot Wednesday against the Money Team in the third round of The Basketball Tournament.

Less than five years earlier, Cunningham experienced a similar feeling in almost the same spot after scoring a game-winning basket against Ball State in Anthony Grant's first game as UD coach. This shot, like that one, was a short hook shot under the basket. On both shots, Cunningham had defenders all over him.

There was a difference between the shots. Cunningham beat Ball State in the 2017-18 season opener with his right hand and beat the The Money Team, the top seed in the eight-team Dayton Region, with his left.

"It just came down to me trying to finish," Cunningham said. "When I pump faked, I saw everybody on my right side, and I was like my left side is open, so I've just got to go up with my left and hopefully I make it. I feel pretty confident in my left hand. I made a left-handed hook shot during the game. It's my off hand. Under pressure, it's kind of hard."

Cunningham works on both hands in practice for situations like this. It paid off in an 83-81 victory, the third in four days for the Dayton alumni team at UD Arena.

"It's been amazing," Cunningham said, "just being back at the arena in front of the fans and being able to play with my old teammates."

The No. 3 seed Red Scare won the Dayton Region and advanced to a quarterfinal at 9 p.m. Friday against the West Virginia Region champion Best Virginia, the top seed in that region. The West Virginia alumni team, which includes former Flyer Juwan Staten, beat the East Tennessee State alumni team, the No. 2 seed Bucketneers, 63-62 on Wednesday in Charleston, W.V.

This is the first time the Red Scare has won three games in one TBT. It improved to 8-3 in four tournament appearances. It is the lowest seed remaining in the tournament. The eight quarterfinalists include five No. 1 seeds, two No. 2 seeds and the Red Scare.

"It feels great," Red Scare coach Joey Gruden said. "To still be alive in a million-dollar tournament, it doesn't feel any better. We get to play more games at home. It's so fun. I don't want it to stop. The closer we get to the money, it's exciting."

Jordan Sibert made the game-ending shots Sunday against the No. 6 seed CitiTeam in the first round and Tuesday against the No. 2 seed Golden Eagles in the second round.

In this game, the Red Scare entered the Elam Ending with a 74-67 lead but saw The Money Team take an 81-80 lead on a 3-pointer by Corey Davis. Darrell Davis, who moments earlier had made a key 3-pointer with the offense struggling during the Elam Ending, made a free throw to tie the game.

The Red Scare got the ball back after the free throw. At that point, whichever team scored the next point or points would hit the target score of 82 points and win the game.

Scoochie Smith dribbled to the basket, drew two defenders and found Cunningham under the basket. Cunningham faked once, causing former Brigham Young star Jimmer Fredette to fly by him, and then he made the short shot over The Money Team's big man, Trevor Booker.

"After Darrell made his free throw, we knew we had to just get a bucket," Smith said. "The play was a pick and roll. I guess they didn't want to sink in and helped on the shooter. Josh was wide open, and I just found him. I kind of probed a little bit and waited to see what was going on. I made the right decision."

Cunningham scored six points. Davis led the Red Scare with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Smith had 15 points. Jordan Sibert and Vee Sanford each had 12 points.

The Red Scare gave up a 12-2 run to start the game but answered with a 7-0 run and trailed 18-15 after the first quarter. They took a 39-37 lead into halftime and extended the advantage to as many as nine points early in the fourth quarter.

The Money Team had one more run in it, but the Red Scare had more magic. Maybe the presence of so many former Flyers in close proximity to the bench helped.

Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher were there for the third straight game, and they'll be here throughout the tournament, Crutcher said. Ibi Watson sat there for the second straight game. Chris Wright found a seat at the end of the row in the second half. Sean Finn and Keith Waleskowski were in the building. A large portion of the current Dayton roster also sat behind the bench, as did Jazz Gardner, a top-100 2023 recruit, visiting campus.

While the crowd was not as big as anyone imagined (2,619), it was as loud as it could be Wednesday, and it was a similar story Sunday and Tuesday.

"We appreciate everybody's support," Davis said. "Not just the fans but the community and the staff, all the faculty. Without them, there's no us."

"We need at least 5,000 on Friday," Smith said. "At least."