2014 Cinderella Dayton no longer a surprise with A-10 title in view
DAYTON — The run the University of Dayton Flyers made to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season surprised the nation. What head coach Archie Miller and his staff have gotten from their players this season has been a bigger surprise.
Maybe it shouldn’t be.
Short on bench numbers? Short on size? No problem because the Flyers have so much more going for them, starting with their attitude.
UD entered Tuesday night’s home game against Rhode Island in a three-way tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 with the Rams and Davidson. A 75-59 win was more than just the Flyers’ 21st in a row at UD Arena, including a perfect 16-0 this season. The victory put the Flyers (23-6, 13-4 A-10) on the cusp of winning at least a share of the program’s first regular-season championship with one final game at La Salle left on Saturday.
No one was predicting much success for UD when junior forwards Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson were dismissed from the team in December for violating the program’s student code of conduct. Gone were the only players taller than 6-foot-6. Then senior guard Ryan Bass was lost because of concussion symptoms that ended his playing career. The team has seven scholarship players, one of whom in Bobby Wehrli who was awarded his scholarship mid-season.
"It’s funny, there’s a song we listen to that’s called "I Don’t Get Tired" by Kevin Gates," said guard Jordan Sibert, the lone senior for the Flyers who scored 21 points on his senior night and left the court to a standing ovation and a serenade of his name from the sellout crowd of 13,455.
"It’s how we approach it mentally. We look at each other and it’s like ‘You can’t be tired.’ If you get hurt in the game, no you can’t be hurt. It’s our mentality. We can’t let down."
Junior forward Dyshawn Pierre scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and grabbed 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. It was his fourth double-double in the last six games. Sophomore Kendall Pollard had 18 points and three blocked shots. Sophomore guard Kyle Davis had 10 points and four steals.
Wehrli played six minutes. Freshman guard Darrell Davis played 15 minutes. All five starters played at least 31 minutes.
It would be easy to think this team is tired. Or should be. It is not.
"It’s all about the mind," Miller said. "You listen to everyone talk about how you’re tired, you’ll be tired. If you look at everybody and say ‘I’m not tired’, you’re not tired."
Miller said the moment that UD is enjoying helps. It won last Saturday at VCU, the preseason favorite and ranked No. 22 at the time.
"Being in the game late February, how can’t you be excited?" asked Miller. "How can’t you be excited to be on national television with that crowd? There’s no time to be tired. They logged a lot of minutes. They’ve logged a lot of minutes throughout the course of the season but, to me, they’re playing at their best right now. … They are mentally sharp."
Rhode Island made eight of its first 12 field-goal attempts and led by as many as five points in the first 10 minutes but couldn’t keep up with Dayton’s relentless pace on either end of the court. The Rams hit just three of their final 15 shots in the first half as Dayton’s defense pestered them on the perimeter and inside.
Sibert scored 15 points in the first half, including a personal 6-0 run after Rhode Island cut a 30-23 deficit to three points with two minutes left before halftime. Sibert picked up where he left off with a contested finish at the basket 30 seconds into second half to give the Flyers a 38-26 lead, but he drew his third foul 35 seconds later and had to go to the bench.
He sat for the next seven minutes but Rhode Island never got closer than seven points in that time. When the Rams pulled to within 49-43 with 11:25 remaining, UD answered with a 14-4 run of its own to all but put the game away.
Sibert finished a perfect 6 for 6 from the field, hitting one 3-pointer, and 8 for 8 from the line in his final home game.
UD was a basketball independent until the 1988-89 season when it joined the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. It moved to the Great Midwest in 1993-94 before joining the A-10 two seasons later. It has won A-10 Western Division championships in 2000 and 2004 but never won outright or even shared a league regular-season title.
"Making history is fun," Pierre said. "We’re happy. We’re proud of ourselves, but we know that this doesn’t end here."
To win the title outright and earn the No. 1 seed in next week’s A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, UD needs to beat La Salle and have Davidson lose one of its two remaining games at home against VCU or at Duquesne on Saturday.
"It’s right there in front of us," Miller said. "We may get a little bit of help this week, we don’t know, but even if we don’t get help, Saturday is a big game for us. Right now, winning a regular-season conference championship for that group in there means a lot. There’s a lot of pride in there."
No one should be surprised by Dayton. Not anymore.
"We’re a hard-working group," Sibert said. "We take our game serious. We take pride in defending and being a good team. Maybe they’re surprised by the depth, but they shouldn’t be surprised by the wins because we work hard for them."