DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Dayton coach Archie Miller told his team it would be a weird game because of Delaware State's style of play.
The Hornets' slow pace and junk defenses weren't enough to derail No. 25 Dayton, though, and the Flyers overcame a sluggish first half, poor foul shooting and a late slump to defeat Delaware State 56-46 on Wednesday night.
"We came out a little flat, but it shows our maturity as a team to come out and get the win no matter what," senior guard Vee Sanford said.
Dayton (7-1) finally found some rhythm in the slow-paced game with a 14-2 run that pushed its lead to 50-30 with 7:51 to play. Delaware State (2-6) responded with consecutive 3-pointers by Tyshawn Bell to spark a 9-0 run. The Hornets cut the lead to 54-46 with 1:32 left before Dayton finished it off.
"They did a few things to get us out of our comfort zone, so you have to give them a little bit of credit," said Flyers center Matt Kavanaugh, who scored a team-high 11 points. "All that matters to us is the win. It might have looked a little bit sloppy, but a sloppy win's better than an exciting loss."
Dayton played its first game as a ranked team since 2009 and looked jet-lagged from its trip to the Maui Invitational last week. It was the Flyers' first game back home since a third-place finish in Maui, and it was that tournament performance that elevated them into the Top 25. They defeated then-No. 11 Gonzaga and California and were a tip-in away from beating then-No. 18 Baylor.
"Anytime you come off the road swing that we came off with a week off between games, you're never real sure what you're going to get," Miller said.
Delaware State succeeded at slowing the game to a crawl compared to the pace Dayton is used to playing. The Hornets worked the shot clock to 20 seconds before attacking the defense. Most of their shots came with under 10 seconds left, including several in the final 5 seconds.
"We knew talent-wise we could not match up with this team," Delaware State coach Greg Jackson said. "So we wanted to pretty much shorten up the game and limit their possessions. I thought we did a great job of that, but more importantly I thought we did a great job on the defensive end."
Dayton entered the game shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range, but went only 2 of 14. The Flyers also came in shooting 72.9 percent from the free throw line but made only 14 of 27.
"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 Hornets shot 31.6 percent from the field in the first half but only trailed 28-21 at halftime. Eight points and a pair of 3-pointers from Casey Walker kept them close.
Dayton jumped out to a 10-0 lead, with Kavanaugh running the floor for two layups to spark the run. Delaware State countered with a 10-2 spurt to cut Dayton's lead to 12-10 with 10:56 left in the half.
Despite the tight score, Miller said his team was efficient. The Flyers got near the basket often, and the Hornets kept sending them to the foul line. It turned out to be a good strategy — Dayton was only 8 of 17 at the line in the half.
Bell and Walker led Delaware State with 14 points each.
Delaware State's two victories are over NCAA Division III schools. The Hornets were picked to finish seventh out of 13 teams in the MEAC preseason poll and did not have a player selected to the preseason all-conference team.
"It didn't look pretty — it wasn't going to be pretty," Miller said. "We'll take it."