Dayton Flyers forward DaRon Holmes II has lived in Ohio for less than three years. He’s learning the reasons fans of the Dayton Flyers will see so much meaning in a lsold-out exhibition game at 6 p.m. Sunday against Ohio State at UD Arena.
“It’s going to be great to play Ohio State,” Holmes II said. “I don’t know when was the last time Dayton got the chance.”
A reporter told Holmes the Flyers and Buckeyes last played in the NCAA tournament in 2014 when UD’s Vee Sanford hit a shot in the final seconds to win the game. That game turns 10 years old next March. Holmes was in fifth grade when it took place.
“Being an Arizona guy, are you familiar with Ohio State-Dayton and why that’s important to fans?” Holmes was asked Tuesday during Atlantic 10 Conference Media Day.
“I’m starting to pick it up more, especially now that you just told me,” Holmes said.
Holmes knows about Dayton’s old rivalry with Xavier. There’s no reason he would know about Dayton’s history with Ohio State because there isn’t a deep history.
The programs’ arenas are separated by 74 miles, but Dayton and Ohio State have played only twice this century. Dayton beat Ohio State 60-59 on March 20, 2014, thanks to the bank shot by Sanford in Buffalo, N.Y. The only game that has taken place in Holmes’ lifetime was in 2008 when Ohio State beat Dayton 74-63 in the quarterfinals of the NIT in Columbus.
Ohio State has not played at UD Arena against the Flyers since the 1980s. The teams split four games from 1985-88 with each team winning one home game and one road game. Prior to that, they had not played since the 1933-34 season.
When Chris Holtmann got the Ohio State job in 2017, momentum built for Ohio State, Dayton, Xavier and Cincinnati playing an Ohio version of the Crossroads Classic, which then matched the top teams in Indiana. The idea never went anywhere, though Holtman said this month in an advance of the exhibition game he’s open to playing Dayton.
“I know for seven years now here, I’ve gotten grief from Dayton fans about never playing them,” Holtmann said. “Trust me, it’s been pretty consistent. We have talked about playing in the past, and I’d be open to doing a home and home with them at some point for sure, as we almost did a couple years ago.”
Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said it took only one phone call to convince Ohio State to play this game because it’s a charity game that will benefit the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio and other local organizations. The death of Dayton coach Anthony Grant’s daughter Jay, 20, who died by suicide in 2022, led to Grant the event. Grant and his wife Chris are using their platform to spread awareness about the importance of talking about mental health.
“Anthony called back in the summer and asked if we’d be willing to play an exhibition game to start the season to raise money around mental health and mental health as it relates to teenagers and college-age kids,” Holtmann said. “He said this will give ‘myself, our family an opportunity to share our personal story.’ We really jumped in with two feet, because it’s a great opportunity to raise money, to raise awareness, to also hopefully give Anthony and his family some healing in the midst of this.”
As for playing a game that counts somewhere down the line, Holtmann said the idea has “real possibilities.”
“I’ve never shied away from playing people in state,” Holtmann said. “We did a home and home with Cincinnati. We’ll consider doing it again with Dayton if it works out. It’s not quite like football, where schedules are made out five years in advance, but it’s a couple years in advance. My philosophy on home and home is we’d really like to play good tournament-type teams in non-conference games. (Dayton) is certainly in that category.”
Dayton will play an Ohio State program coming off its first losing season (16-19) since 2003-04 (14-16) and their worst Big Ten performance (5-15), marked by a nine-game losing streak, since 1997-98 (1-15).
The Almanac picked Ohio State to finish sixth in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes rank 35th in the preseason Ken Pomeroy ratings — Dayton, the A-10 preseason favorite, is 69th.
Ohio State returns two double-digit scorers: senior forward Zed Key (10.8 points per game); and sophomore guard Bruce Thornton (10.6). It brings in a four-man freshman class that ranked 12th in the country, according to 247Sports.com. The top recruit, guard Taison Chatman, underwent a knee procedure in the preseason and will not play Sunday.
Both coaches are treating this like any exhibition game.
“I call them rubber bullet games,” Grant said. “It’s a chance for us to see where we are right now and where we need to get better. It’s a chance to see different lineups, different combinations of guys on the floor and just learn more about ourselves. So that’s the goal.
“As for our fan base, it’s an exciting opportunity to see us against Ohio State. It’s two great fan bases. I’m very grateful that coach Holtmann agreed to play, first and foremost, and understands the big picture behind it in what we’re trying to do in terms of raising awareness.”
Dayton scrimmages fellow Division I teams before every season. They’re often called “secret scrimmages” because they’re not publicized. Dayton never announces a score or stats. This game replaces that scrimmage for Dayton, though Ohio State does have a scrimmage against Clemson in Nashville next weekend, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Dayton has another exhibition game scheduled against Cedarville University at 2 p.m. Oct. 28 before opening the season at home at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Although Ohio State hasn’t played the Flyers at UD Arena since Dec. 17, 1988, it has played seven NCAA tournament games at UD Arena, which has played host to 133 NCAA tournament games, more than any other venue, since 1970. The Buckeyes beat Iona and Iowa in their last NCAA games in Dayton in 2013.
Holtmann visted UD Arena in July when Ohio State’s alumni team, Carmen’s Crew, played in The Basketball Tournament.
“I love their arena,” Holtmann said. “Love the size of it. I love ours as well. I just think they have a pretty compact place. We know for decades that place has been really passionate. I think they have one of the great basketball fanbases in the country. I’m really excited for our group to play in front of it, because it is a tremendous following. It’s been that way for years now. They love their basketball and that’s part of the reason why the First Four games have been there in the NCAA tournament.”
Ohio State at Dayton, 6 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 1290, 95.7