Dayton solidifies NCAA resume with win over Richmond
DAYTON — Life on the bubble this time of the year can be cruel. One moment you are in the NCAA field of 68, the next you are out and staring at the NIT. Despite the stress, the University of Dayton has been handling it well.
After losing four straight to close out January, the Flyers have won nine of their last 10, including Saturday’s 60-48 defeat of Richmond. Dayton goes into the upcoming Atlantic 10 tournament with a 22-9 mark.
"It has been a draining month. We’ve had some amazing wins," Dayton head coach Archie Miller said. "We’ve dealt with some adversity, negativity at one point and having to handle success has been tiring. The kids have done a great job."
Dayton came into the game off a five-point win at No. 17 St. Louis last Wednesday. Coming off a key road game and then having Senior Night is normally a prescription for a letdown, but the Flyers didn’t let that happen.
After a Wayne Sparrow 3-pointer brought Richmond within 11-10, Dayton scored 13 straight points to take control. It was a pair of seniors who keyed the run. Devin Oliver started it off with a 3-pointer followed by seven straight points by Vee Sanford. Kyle Davis then made a breakaway layup and completed a three-point play after being fouled.
The closest Richmond got after that was 52-44 with 5:40 remaining.
Oliver led the Flyers with 16 points in his final scheduled home game. In three years Oliver has gone from someone people doubted should be in the program to one who Miller says will the poster boy to how he wants things done.
"Quite frankly when you get the job you don’t know any of these guys and you ask questions. The word was he wasn’t good enough to play here," Miller said. "His senior season he has grown up and matured. His all-around game has changed the dynamics of this team."
Sanford, who transferred from Georgetown after his sophomore year, might be one of the best sixth men in the conference. In 23 minutes he had 14 points and five rebounds. Jordan Siebert added 12 points. When Dayton has three or more players in double figures, they are 21-2.
When you ask Miller what has been the biggest difference in this six-week run, he says it has been the character of his team. It has also been defense. In nine of the last 11 games, the Flyers have not allowed an opponent to score 70 or more. They 48 points that Richmond scored on Saturday was a season low.
"We’re together, it’s been that way since the beginning," Oliver said. "When people stepped on us and counted us out we just kept pushing. It comes down to proving to ourselves we can get it done."
Dayton has a resume that should warrant an NCAA berth for the first time since 2009. The Flyers are ranked 43rd in the most recent RPI and have four victories against teams in the top 50. They are 9-6 against the RPI’s Top 100.
Oliver said he hasn’t looked at any of the bracketology sites unless it pops up on this Twitter feed. If he did, he would see that most of them have the Flyers as an 11th seed.
Said Oliver about playing in the NCAA Tournament: "That would mean everything. That is what you come to college for. It’s been an up and down three years but you have to live in the present and continue to fight."
Miller said he deleted the Ken Pomeroy app from his phone in late January after he saw the Flyers’ ranking continue to drop. For a coach who is glued to the numbers as much as Miller, the past month has been torture.
In his third year as Dayton’s head coach, Miller does think that has team’s recent run should get them a spot.
"I think we’re an NCAA Tournament team. You take the name Dayton off the top of the sheet and stack it up with the rest of the programs I don’t know what other teams have as much as we have," Miller said. "When you’re in February and March and win 9 out of 10 that’s good. We’ve delivered big as of late."
Miller said he was trying to avoid being a salesman for his team, but he did sell the strength of the conference this year. In what was supposed to be a down year for the A-10 after the departures of Temple, Butler, Xavier and Charlotte, the conference could have as many as six teams in the NCAA field.
With those six teams anchored by upperclassmen, one or more could emerge as a Sweet Sixteen team.
Should the Flyers win their first A-10 tournament game on Thursday in Brooklyn that should put them in the NCAA field. It should also take them out of consideration for being one of the teams to play in the First Four on March 18-19. Even though those games are at UD Arena, the Flyers could play in it because it is the site for only one game. Xavier has also been mentioned as a possible team to be playing in the First Four as well. A team has not played an early-round game on its home court since Syracuse in 1987.
Added Miller: "The bottom line is have you or haven’t you gotten it done. Lately we’ve been getting it done and as you do that the pressure and stakes go up. That’s where you want to be right now."