SPRINGFIELD – When Belvidere senior Dennis Dornich connected on the first field goal of the game – a 3 – to give the visiting County Seaters a 3-point advantage, host Dayton had yet to find its shot.
The Bulldogs kept on missing.
Dayton misfired on its first seven field goal attempts before senior starter Jaykwaan Chito made a layup with 4:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Then junior guard DJ Alicea followed with a layup to give Dayton its first lead.
Although the Bulldogs made just three of 13 shots in the game’s initial eight minutes, Alicea’s layup ended up giving Dayton the lead for good.
That’s because Dayton produced a 9-0 run later in the first period, the Bulldogs at that point beginning to show their quickness off the glass.
After Belvidere made one free throw, Dayton followed with a colossal 26-0 run that started with a free throw of its own late in the first quarter.
Game, set, match.
Dayton was simply too quick to the boards and then too fast down court after grabbing a rebound for Belvidere to catch up.
With Alicea leading the way with a superb, game-high, three-quarter only 24-point effort that included two 3s in addition to two thunderous dunks, Dayton was more than decisive in downing Belvidere 60-32 in Saturday afternoon’s out-of-county boys’ basketball clash at Dayton’s gymnasium.
Dayton also knows what it feels like to get dominated. In its season-opener at Union County Conference-crossover foe New Providence on Dec. 14 the Bulldogs were thumped 66-26.
Since then Dayton has now reeled off five straight wins for a 5-1 record. The Bulldogs lead the UCC’s new River Division with a 1-0 record after having defeated Hillside 66-58 at home on Thursday.
Dayton, Belvidere and New Providence are all situated in North 2, Group 1, so other matchups in state tournament play are possible.
Belvidere, which competes in the Mountain Division of the Skyland Conference slipped to 3-4.
Alicea, a returning starter for veteran head coach Bob Martin, scored eight points in the first quarter, six in the second and his final 10 in the third. Martin rested all of his starters in the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t finding our shot early on,” Alicea said.
After first building a 12-6 lead – courtesy of making six-of-eight free throw attempts – by the end of the first quarter, Dayton really turned it on the second. Reserve players Josh Jackson and Andrew Hornbuckle hit consecutive 3s to start the second for the Bulldogs, who ended up scoring the first 25 points of the stanza.
Alicea’s first dunk – one-handed – gave Dayton a 24-6 lead. His second – this one two-handed – put the Bulldogs in front 33-6.
“When we play as a team we feel we can beat anyone,” Alicea said.
Chito, who scored 13 of his 14 points in the first half, also produced five steals in the second quarter.
Alicea made both of his 3-pointers in the third quarter, each from the same spot on the left side.
When asked what felt better, slamming home a dunk (Alicea also missed one) or connecting on a 3, this is what Alicea said: “I like scoring both ways. It’s good to be able to do both.”
If it were not for a 3-pointer from the left side made by Dornich – he led Belvidere with 20 points – with just 1:21 left in the second quarter, Dayton would have shut out the County Seaters in that period.
“Playing well on defense is important,” Alicea said.
Dayton came up with eight steals in the all-important, game-deciding second quarter.
“Once we get going as a team and pass the ball and play together, that’s when we’re at our best,” Alicea said.
Belvidere started in a zone defense in an attempt to immediately slow down the Bulldogs.
Dayton was simply too quick.
“We tried to go up tempo with our press and then get points off our defense,” Martin said.
It worked. In the second quarter it almost worked to perfection.
Against a player like Alicea, Belvidere had no answer.
“You need a lot of ways to defend him (Alicea),” Martin said. “He’s tough off the dribble and his defense is a little underrated. He’s there for us whether it’s practice or a game.”
Since the UCC went to five divisions for the first time, Dayton and New Providence will not see each other again in the regular season. New Providence, which sported a 6-1 record before playing at Governor Livingston Saturday, remains in the Sky Division.
“New Providence has a lot of weapons,” Martin said. “Since then we’ve been able to get ourselves right.”
Dayton is seeking its first winning season since the Bulldogs finished 14-11 in 2014-2015. Dayton went 7-16 last year after two straight 11-13 finishes.
“We’re sticking to our principles on offense and defense,” Martin said. “It’s not really complicated.”
Here’s a look at the teams in the Union County Conference’s Sky Division and new River Division:
Sky Division: Cranford, Gov. Livingston, Johnson, New Providence, Roselle.
River Division: Dayton, Brearley, Hillside, Oratory Prep, Roselle Park.
OUT-OF-COUNTY BOYS’ BASKETBALL MATCHUP
Belvidere (3-4) 06 03 12 11 – 32
Dayton (5-1) 12 29 13 06 – 60
BELVIDERE COUNTY SEATERS (32):
31-Dennis Dornich, senior, 1-4-6-20
34-Tyler Hover, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
32-Sam Myerchin, senior, 1-1-0-5
24-Bailey Mitchell, senior, 1-0-0-2
13-Louis Turner, senior, 1-0-1-3
5-Jaidan Southwell, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
2-Brett Dalrymple, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Southwell, Dalrymple,
Turner, Dornich, Myerchin.
DAYTON BULLDOGS (60):
4-Josh Jackson, sophomore, 1-2-0-8
12-Andrew Hornbuckle, junior, 0-2-1-7
2-DJ Alicea, junior, 6-2-6-24
3-Jaykwaan Chito, senior, 4-1-3-14
1-Vinny Pulice, senior, 1-0-2-4
10-Jonathan Stapleton, senior, 1-0-0-2
0-Eugene Atkinson, senior, 0-0-1-1
11-Nathan Calling, junior, 0-0-0-0
30-Joani Lico, junior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Alicea, Pulice,
Chito, Atkinson, Stapleton.