Some solid play away from home has been a big reason Dayton is ranked for the first time in four years.
The No. 25 Flyers hit the road again Saturday night looking to avenge last season’s loss to Illinois State.
Dayton (7-1) opened some eyes when it won 82-72 at Georgia Tech on Nov. 20, and it made a bigger statement with an 84-79 win over then-No. 11 Gonzaga to open the Maui Invitational on Nov. 25. The Flyers lost 67-66 to then-No. 18 Baylor the next day but bounced back with an 82-64 victory over California.
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After the Flyers overcame Delaware State’s deliberate style and some rough shooting Wednesday to win 56-46 at home in their first game as a ranked team since November 2009, they face an Illinois State squad that’s won three straight and left Dayton last season with a 74-73 victory.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” coach Archie Miller said. “Our antennas are going to be up. How many teams can say they are already going to play their fifth game away from their home venue, but that’s where we’re at.”
Dayton, which went 2-8 in true road games in 2012-13, hopes to maintain a simple approach that’s worked thus far.
“When you play on the road all you’ve got are the guys in the locker room with you,” said center Matt Kavanaugh, who had a team-high 11 points Wednesday. “We’ve played well together so far and we have to keep playing well together.”
Though Illinois State (4-4) lost its top six scorers from last season and is 1-2 at home, the Flyers hope to sustain more of a rhythm than they did Wednesday.
Dayton needed a 14-2 second-half run to maintain control. Top scorers Jordan Sibert (13.6 points per game) and Devin Oliver (12.8) combined for 11 on 3-of-8 shooting as the Flyers shot 45.5 percent from the field and season lows of 14.3 percent (2 of 14) from 3-point range and 51.9 (14 of 27) from the free-throw line.
The Flyers, however, held Delaware State to 39.5 percent shooting and committed seven turnovers. Dayton has totaled 11 turnovers in the last two games after averaging 13.7 through the first six.
“When the ball doesn’t go in you feel like you play terrible,” Miller said. “But that was far from the case. We were efficient on both ends, we didn’t turn it over. If we make more free throws and stick a couple more shots, the score’s probably a little bit different all the way through.”
The Flyers turned the ball over 16 times and allowed Illinois State to shoot 52.9 percent in last year’s meeting. Oliver had four points on 2-of-10 shooting and missed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left. Teammate Khari Price got the rebound but missed at the buzzer.
Guard Daishon Knight has averaged 16.0 points in the last six games for the Redbirds, who won the last three over Sonoma State, San Francisco and Chicago State by an average of 16.7 points.
Illinois State, which won 75-72 at then-No. 16 Creighton last season, fell 96-58 at then-No. 14 VCU on Nov. 8. It has lost both times it’s faced a Top 25 non-conference opponent at Redbird Arena.