Kendall Pollard and guard Scoochie Smith sit on the court during the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Oklahoma won 72-66.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Dayton Flyers, the shorthanded team that could and did, led Oklahoma by nine points with a little over 13 minutes left in Sunday’s Round of 32 NCAA tournament game.
Midnight came soon after. Too soon.
The Flyers went cold. Actually, they went frozen in a stretch that covered 9:04 without a single point and almost 90 seconds longer without a field goal.
Two different seven-point leads evaporated in that stretch. Heavy legs showed up. Oklahoma kept attacking.
The Sooners look the part of a No. 3 seed. Bigger, faster, stronger eventually beat a Dayton team with six available scholarship players, 72-66. A 35-23 rebounding advantage helped. A big blocked shot by Buddy Hield, probably the only future NBA player on the floor, pretty much finished Dayton’s last gasp with just over a minute left.
"We just had a couple of plays not go our way," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "And give (Oklahoma) credit for making them. But it won’t take away from the season. I’ll remember this season for as long as I live, regardless of how long I coach. There will never be a team of seven people duplicate what we did, win 27 games with six scholarship players, a freshman and three sophomores. It will never been done again.
"And like I told these guys, they’ve got nothing to be ashamed with how they’ve competed and how they represent what we do. (Just) continue to build on our program. A guy like Jordan (Sibert) being a senior, I couldn’t be prouder of him and what he was able to accomplish and to be a difference-maker for us the last couple of years. Really, it was a script that you couldn’t have written any better."
Dayton has played seven NCAA tournament games over the last two seasons. After losing Sunday, the Flyers made no excuses.
"We just didn’t make shots," Sibert said. "It had nothing to do with us being tired. Just some shots didn’t go in. It’s basketball."
Dayton was playing for the sixth time in 10 days after winning a First Four game on its home floor Wednesday and beating Providence in a late Friday night game that finished at 1:06 a.m. Saturday.
Dayton trailed Oklahoma, 9-0, to start the game and by 12 with 8:33 left in the first half.
The Flyers came back to lead by nine before it all came apart.
"Part of (our players) not acknowledging the fatigue is they were not allowed to acknowledge it all season," Miller said. "We didn’t let any outside words or noise or excuses creep into the team, and that is one of the reasons we were able to be successful. Fatigue played a role. I think to start the game our legs weren’t under us. But I did think we fought hard to get back.
"All the guys, when you log the amount of minutes they’ve had year-round, it’s tough not to have some fatigue. But I’ll tell you, I didn’t sense that tonight’s win or loss was due to fatigue. I thought Oklahoma did a great job adjusting in the second half and some things that they did I thought put us on some islands where we weren’t successful. And then offensively we weren’t able to generate any two-point baskets. Their size bothered us, the physicality around the basketball, we couldn’t get any easy ones."
Scoochie Smith led Dayton with 16 points. Sibert was held to seven, almost 10 below his average, and took just seven shots.
After a Smith layup with 1:19 left cut Dayton’s deficit to 62-58, Darrell Davis stole an Oklahoma pass and attacked the basket, but Hield went high to block it, Jordan Woodard corralled it and went on to make three of four free throws in the following 15 seconds.
Woodard led Oklahoma with 16 points and Hield scored 15.
"This group will go down in the Dayton books as a very special one for how they handled things," Miller said. "But I’m sad. When you’re happy with your players and you love coaching them, you want to keep going. And especially when you’ve experienced this tournament like we have in the last couple of years, advancing is something — there’s nothing like it.
"But we ran into a really good team and I wouldn’t be surprised if Oklahoma is playing in the Final Four."