MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dayton flew right through the trees, straight into the Elite 8. Who says the 11-seed Flyers can’t crash the Final Four party?
FedExForum became a rowdy home game in Thursday’s regional semifinal, an 82-72 win against 10-seed Stanford.
Fouls + Stanford = chopped tree.
Fouls dug an early hole for the Cardinal (23-13), as Dayton carried a 42-32 lead into the break against much-taller Stanford.
Both teams were whistled for 11 fouls in the first half, especially bad for top-heavy Stanford. Six-foot-11 center Stefan Nastic sat with three. Six-10 forward Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle each had two at the buzzer, a buzzer the Cardinal missed two pretty good looks at to keep the Flyers up 10.
It was about the fouls. But it was also about Dayton coach Archie Miller’s gut. He put freshman Kendall Pollard in the spotlight. Pollard answered with a career-high 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
"I thought he kicked it into another gear, his practices have been aggressive. He’s had a very good bounce about him," said Miller of the four-time prep champion at Simeon. "We really feel like we can trust him. He’s earned that in the way he’s prepared."
It was also about the bench, a bench that everyone knew was better than Stanford’s. But 32 points better? Dayton (26-10) outscored Stanford’s bench 34-2. Two. John Gage should get a bump in scholarship cash for that two.
"They were relentless. They came in in waves and I thought all those kids that came in contributed," said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
Not even a technical foul on Dawkins could build enough of a fire to overcome Dayton’s first half, when it shot 46.9 percent. The Flyers shot 50 percent in the second half.
An 8-0 Dayton run had the Flyers up 34-23, the last of those points on the technical free throw from Dyshawn Pierre. That thanks to the technical foul on Dawkins, who slung off an assistant arguing the whistles.
"I just wanted to get our guys fired up. I thought we were losing momentum. We had already burned a timeout," said Dawkins. "I should have been T’d up."
Dawkins said he wasn’t intentionally looking for a technical. That’s arguable, but it wouldn’t have helped. Not even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could have governed her Cardinal through. Nor could alum and newest Super Bowl champ Richard Sherman, seated in front of Rice behind the Stanford bench.
Sherman tweeted that Tim Tebow got him to Memphis in time. He wouldn’t have missed much in the first half.
On the floor for a ball with Jalen Robinson with 13:24 to play, Nastic picked up his fourth foul and headed to the bench. His 13 points were a team-high at the time. Pollard then worked his way inside on a nifty step for a 12-point lead. Then Jordan Sibert worked through the lane for two of his team-high 18 to answer a three-point play by Powell.
Every bell was answered.
With 10:44 left, Powell was called for a charge, a make that would have trimmed Dayton’s lead to single digits, but instead went to 12 as Scoochie Smith drove to a rim not protected by Nastic.
Then Devon Scott grabbed an offensive rebound between Stanford defenders on the other end and converted a free throw.
So many names, Stanford couldn’t keep up.
The story can really be written with that line or with the fact that Dayton outscored Stanford 36-32 in the paint. That just shouldn’t have happened, but nor should wins against Ohio State and Syracuse.
Dayton hit six 3-pointers in the first half. That opened the lane. Stanford never closed it.
It was about a blue-collar team gritting and grinding in a house its Memphis Grizzlies call the Grindhouse. Dayton fits that bill. The Flyers grinded through the Stanford zone, then through man, and had just 10 turnovers.
"UD" chants and "Let’s go Flyers" drowned out the Stanford faithful.
"It was a home game," said Miller. "I said this at the press conference the other day. I don’t know how we’ll play, but our fans will be the loudest. What I didn’t know were how many were going to be here."
Dayton didn’t have to grind as hard down the stretch as it did against Ohio State and Syracuse, thanks to the early run.
"It was definitely a relief," said Sibert. "It’s kind of nerve-wracking when you have to get that stop and you have to make a game-winning stop to get the win."
Stanford never made a serious threat. Even when Powell’s plus-one with 8:10 left cut the lead to 64-58, Devin Oliver maneuvered his way inside and found Scott for two and a free throw for a nine-point margin. In comes tallest flyer Matt Kavanaugh, who immediately scored for a 69-58 lead. Nastic scored. So did Kavanaugh, again.
Fouls played their role, a combined 59 free throws. And Nastic fouled out with 4:52 left. But Stanford shot 33 of those and made five more than Dayton.
It was more to do with the four Dayton guys in double figures and the 11 guys who got a number on the stat sheet. And the resolve of a small school that thinks it not only belongs here, but can win here.
"Their camaraderie and togetherness is what led to us sitting here tonight," said Miller.
Lost in the loss, Stanford got 66 points from four of its starters, led by Randle’s 21. But, 34-2. And, Randle’s points came on 5-of-21 shooting, 3-of-11 from behind the arc.
Miller said Pollard is at his best right now. So is Dayton, an 11-seed to worry about Saturday in Dayton South.
On paper a 10 vs. 11 may not look like it can produce a national champion, but look deeper and you’ll see Buckeyes and Oranges laying amongst the Flyers’ wreckage. Add a fallen tree in Dayton’s first Sweet Sixteen trip since 1984. A Final Four would be the first time since 1967.