Dec. 1—The Red Scare student section added a new member Wednesday at UD Arena: a stuffed penguin with a red hat and green and red scarf. Just so there was no confusion, a dry-erase board next to it read, "This is our rally penguin." His name is Ice.
The Dayton Flyers need all the help they can get in what has so far been a star-crossed season, though not so much to beat a bottom-of-the-pack Mid-American Conference team.
Dayton led from start to finish in a 67-47 victory against Western Michigan. The Flyers took their first step on their road to recovery after an 0-3 finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis. The losses in the Bahamas weren't as troubling as the injuries suffered by Kobe Elvis (knee) and Malachi Smith (ankle) in the final minutes of the third game. Both used crutches to get around UD Arena on Wednesday.
Dayton coach Anthony Grant was asked how his team dealt with the disappointment of the losses and the injuries in his postgame press conference after the Western Michigan game.
"That's basketball," Grant said. "We don't have the luxury that you have and the people that love and support us have. You can't get too high. You can't get too low. It's a marathon. So as disappointed as we were with the outcomes, we understand there's a lot of basketball left to play and this team is capable of doing really good things. We didn't get the results we wanted, but we were in position in every game that we played with a limited roster to win. We had opportunities in every one of those games to win."
Grant did have somewhat positive news on the injury status of Elvis and Smith.
"Malachi's ankle, I think it's just a matter of letting that heal," Grant said. "I don't know that there's a timetable. But at the same time, from what we've been able to determine right now, there's no fracture, no surgery, anything like that, so it's just a matter of healing, letting that process take care of itself.
"With Kobe Elvis, the great news is that it doesn't look like surgery will be required, and he will be able to most likely — unless there's a setback — return at some point. We just don't know what the timetable will be. So that was great news to get that because when those things happen, you always think the worst and it's a blessing that it wasn't what we all thought it could have been. So hopefully at some point, we'll get both of those guys back during the course of the season."
Dayton has yet to play a game with its full roster. It did get Koby Brea back on Wednesday as he played in his second game after missing the previous four games with an illness. Kaleb Washington made his season debut in the final minute, so his suspension is over, though walk-on Brady Uhl earned minutes ahead of Washington.
Dayton's big men dominated this game. DaRon Holmes II had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Mustapha Amzil also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Toumani Camara had 17 points.
Without Elvis and Smith, Dayton started a lineup with everyone 6-foot-6 or taller. R.J. Blakney and Mustapha Amzil replaced the injured starters in the lineup. Dayton ranks 15th in the nation in average height, according to KenPom.com, and it may climb in the rankings as the minutes get dominated by taller players.
The word of the day after the game with Holmes and Camara in the press conference was "adapt." Dayton has to make do with the players it has available, and that means playing differently.
"Since we have some guys out right now, we're just adapting to what the coaches are telling us," Holmes said. "We're missing some pieces, but we're just going to keep working hard. That's what it all comes down to. They just say, 'Keep your head down and keep working.' That's part of basketball. Injuries happen. Things happen. It's just about adapting and going with what you have."
Playing faster and trying to score in transition is one way Dayton could adapt. Mike Sharavjamts provided one of the highlights of the night with a behind-the-back pass to Mustapha Amzil on a fast break in the second half during a 10-0 run that pushed Dayton to its biggest lead, 67-44, in the final minutes.
"We believe we had a good team in transition even before we had the injuries," Camara said, "and I think we didn't exploit that a lot. It's really been an emphasis. Mike is great in transition."
Dayton also hopes to make the most of its height on defense. It held Western Michigan to season-worst 15.4% shooting (4 of 26). from 3-point range.
"We've got a lot of length," Camara said, "and we're able to put out different defenses like we showed today with a different zone and a different press. I think we were able to exploit that pretty well. We've always had great length and just being able to put that on the floor together, I think it's really complicated because before there were not a lot of guards who had that length. Because of the injuries that we have, it's something we have to deal with."
Southeastern Louisana at Dayton, 2 p.m., ESPN+, 1290, 95.7