If it's Wright time, Winthrop could be in for a long night in Dayton, Ohio.
Winthrop (5-5) takes on 6-foot-8 Chris Wright and the Dayton Flyers at 7 tonight in a non-conference game at UD Arena.
Wright matched his career high with 30 points to lead the Flyers to a 71-60 victory over non-conference Western Carolina on Saturday. He made jumpers and dunks. He was disruptive on defense. He was a catalyst for his teammates and the 12,338 fans.
"We feed off that," Josh Benson, one of Wright's teammates, told the Dayton Daily News. "When he gets going, it gets everyone else going."
Winthrop can't have that.
Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter was concerned about Wright coming into the game and the forward still finished 10-for-13 from the field and 10-for-12 from the foul line.
Winthrop's George Valentine will concentrate on limiting the damage Wright is capable of inflicting. The 6-9 redshirt-junior is being asked to take on the tough defensive assignments this season and has performed admirably.
Tonight may be Valentine's stiffest challenge. Wright has been named to the preseason watch lists for the 2010-11 Naismith Trophy, 2011 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award and John Wooden Award. He leads Dayton in scoring (13.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg) and was named to the Atlantic 10's preseason First Team for the second consecutive season.
While the Catamounts from Western Carolina couldn't contain Wright, they did manage to make a game of it. WCU pulled to within three, 61-58, with four minutes remaining. All told, the game was tied eight times and saw five lead changes.
Dayton and Kentucky, Winthrop's opponent on Wednesday, are guarantee games for the Eagles. Winthrop coach Randy Peele sees both contests as opportunities.
"Dayton is a great environment. They are a great team and I love their fan base," Peele said. "I want us to perform (tonight)."
Peele's words were aimed at erasing the memory of the 61-44 loss the Eagles took last March at UD Arena in the NCAA Play-in game to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Winthrop made 2-of-21 3-pointers in that game.
Robbie Dreher, Andre Jones and Gideon Gamble were all part of that NCAA experience in Dayton. They have combined to hit 38-of-84 (.453) of their 3-pointers to date.
Dayton (8-3) is a team that likes to play inside-out. Along with Wright, the Flyers have forward Chris Johnson, the 2010 NIT MVP who was also the A-10's Most Improved Player last season. Johnson is averaging 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and is 15-of-16 at the free throw line in his last four games.
Freshman point guard Juwan Staten, an ESPNU Top 100 recruit, has earned the A-10's Rookie of the Week award twice this season. He leads the A-10 in assists per game (6.9), ranks eighth in the NCAA and owns the top mark among freshmen in the country.
Winthrop is led by guards Dreher (15.6 ppg) and Jones (13.1 ppg).
The Dayton Flyers' men's basketball program is one that Winthrop wants to emulate. Whether the team is winning - they've been to the postseason four times in the last seven seasons and won the NIT championship last season - or losing; they went 14-17 in the 2005-06 campaign, Flyers' fans pack UD Arena.
School is out for Christmas break, yet Dayton's home date with non-conference Western Carolina drew 12,338 fans.
The University of Dayton isn't a big school. The enrollment is 7,700. Winthrop has 6,600 students. The Eagles' last home game, a 73-66 win over Jacksonville, was played in front of 1,656 fans.