Dayton hangs on, escapes with win vs. La Salle

DAYTON — Ain’t it funny how time sometimes does not slip away? The University of Dayton Flyers owned a 12-point lead over LaSalle Saturday night in UD Arena just 2 ½ minutes from endgame.

Then, for the Flyers, it seemed as if the timekeeper fell asleep with the clock turned off.

Time stood still. And so did the Flyers as LaSalle sniped away until the Explorers were within three points with 1:40 left.

But only one point was scored in that last 1:40, a free throw by UD’s Josh Parker at 00:02 that preserved a 79-75 Dayton victory in front of 12,580.

LaSalle, wearing bright Hi-Liter yellow shoes, began the night as the only unbeaten team in Atlantic-10 league play (2-0) and the Flyers were 2-1 after a bad loss Wednesday at St. Bonaventure.

But this night was the coming-out party for 6-9 center Matt Kavanaugh, who imposed his will on the smaller Explorers and their four-guard offense.

Actually, it was Kav and Gav Night. Back-up center Alex Gavrilovic scored nine points, all in the first half. Then Kavanaugh ruled the second 20 minutes, scoring 17 of his career-best 23 points.

It was Kavanaugh who took offensive control nearly by himself late in the game to keep LaSalle away from the door.

The Flyers led 68-60 with four minutes left. Kavanaugh missed a shot underneath, but snagged his own rebound, one of five offensive rebounds he collected, and dropped it in.

He was fouled on UD’s next possession, snatching another rebound, and made two free throws.

A moment later, Kavanaugh was fouled again and made two more en route to making 13 of his 14 free throw attempts.

That’s when the Flyers led, 74-62, with 2 ½ minutes left and had to withstand LaSalle’s 13-point barrage in less than a minute.

In addition to 23 points, Kavanaugh had nine rebounds. He was five for eight from the field and 13 of 14 from the foul line.

Toss in Garvrivic’s nine first-half points and the Flyers had 32 postman points.

The Flyers are without their No. 2 scorer and No. 2 rebounder, Josh Benson, for the rest of the year after he tore his ACL. And senior star Chris Johnson did not play at St. Bonaventure because of concussion-like symptoms and played 17 minutes Saturday, all in the first half.

Kavanaugh, a homegrown product from Centerville, a Dayton suburb, more than provided the impetus UD needed.

“Matt has a lot more confidence,” said UD coach Archie Miller. “Like a lot of players, opportunity to play through mistakes helps. He has a real nice platter of opportunity right now and he has earned it.

“There are not very many guys in our program right now who are guys I know every single day what I am going to get out of them,” Miller added. “He is not always going to be perfect, but I know what I’ll get out of him and I’m comfortable with him in the game.”

It was only last year when Kavanaugh’s playing time was meted out in small doses by a previous regime and every time he made a mistake his next steps were toward the bench.

That isn’t the case with Miller.

“Any time a player can play in a style and a system where a coach will let him play through some mistakes he has an opportunity to be a good player,” said Miller. “He has just blossomed. I don’t think the next game we can expect 23 points out of him, but he is a far cry from where he was when we arrived here in April.

“He has to keep working, but he is the big reason we are able to survive right now. He can get us offensive rebounds and he is able to bang and score around the basket. He has great hands. He is very important to us right now,” Miller added.

Kavanaugh knows his positive presence is needed and without his steed-like work the Flyers would crumble after the injuries to Benson and Johnson.

“This was definitely big for us, especially coming off a loss (St. Bonaventure) and with them (LaSalle) being in first place,” said Kavanaugh. “We knew we needed to come out with a hot start.”

It doesn’t get much hotter. The Flyers were up 7-0 1 ½ minutes into the game. Kevin Dillard drove the basket off the opening tip, Luke Fabrizius (14 points) hit a three and Dillard tossed in a two-point jumper.

The Flyers pretty much maintained that lead throughout the first half and built it to 14 midway through the second half.

Many of Kavanaugh’s points came off second efforts and offensive rebounds and he said, “That’s what coach stresses to me in practice, getting second-chance shots. He tells me, ‘If you have the ability to do that, it really breaks the other team’s back on defense.”

If so, the Explorers are visiting chiropractors this morning.

“I really focus on crashing the boards,” he said. And when he crashes the boards, he gets fouled, resulting in 14 attempts.

“That’s another big thing for me,” he said. “I get in early and shoot 100 free throws every day in practice. That sure paid off today.”

After Kavanaugh’s eight-point run gave the Flyers the 12-point lead with 2 ½ minutes left and LaSalle fired its way back, Kavanaugh said, “It got a little shaky there, but we had to stick with our principles of defense and keep running our offense the way we had the whole game and we came out on top.”

Barely.