No. 19 Dayton convinced the college basketball world of its worthiness in the Maui Invitational last week.
An Obi Toppin stare-down provided the punctuation.
The veteran-laden Flyers (5-1) will play their first game as a ranked team since February 2016 when they play host to winless Houston Baptist on Tuesday.
Dayton took then-No. 4 Kansas into overtime before losing 90-84 in the Maui title game on Wednesday, after advancing with dominating 19- and 27-point victories over Georgia and Virginia Tech.
“Like I told them in the locker room … when we came here, we wanted to find out what we needed to do as a team to continue to move forward, and I think these guys did a great job of answering that,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said.
Toppin, a 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore who is considered an NBA prospect, scored 67 points on 25-of-36 shooting and had 21 rebounds in Maui.
After hitting a 3-pointer late in the first half of the championship game, Toppin took a long look at a heckling Kansas bench before heading back up the floor.
Dayton of the Atlantic 10 Conference is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and out-rebounding opponents by 3.2 per game. The Flyers showed versatility and range against Kansas, when they made 16 of 33 3-pointers and four players scored in double figures.
Ryan Mikesell had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, Toppin had 18 points, Ibi Watson had 16 and Jalen Crutcher had 12, including a game-tying 3-pointer with three seconds left in regulation.
“We kind of showed people what we can do on more of a national level,” said Mikesell, a 6-foot-7 senior. “We wanted to win, but we went out here and we competed for three days straight.
“I’m really excited about this group. I think we have a lot of talent. Just keep improving as the season goes on, so hopefully we’re playing our best basketball at the end of March and hopefully make the tournament, make a good run in the A-10 and go from there.”
The Flyers, who have been historically under-appreciated despite winning 20 games in five of the last six seasons — and 10 of 12 — started two seniors, two juniors and a third-year sophomore against Kansas. Sixth-man Watson is a junior.
Dayton ranks first in the nation in 2-point field-goal percentage, hitting 66.2 percent from inside the arc.
Houston Baptist (0-5) will continue a rugged early-season stretch. The Huskies have not played a home game this season, and their last three losses were to then-No. 11 Texas Tech, now-No. 4 Michigan and Houston by a combined 111 points.
“Our nonconference schedule is challenging, as everyone in the Southland (Conference) has,” said coach Ron Cottrell. “The hits just keep coming in the nonconference schedule.”
Senior guard Jalon Gates and junior guard Ian DuBose lead the Huskies in scoring at 17.8 and 15.6 points per game, respectively. Freshman Myles Pierre had a season-high 15 points in the 112-73 loss at Houston last Tuesday.
–Field Level Media