Dayton's win over Xavier biggest of season
DAYTON -- The UD Arena scoreboard bulbs had not yet cooled after the game when University of Dayton basketball coach Archie Miller was asked: "Was this the biggest win of the year?"
The echo of the question was still reverberating around the room when Miller smiled broadly and answered with one word: "Yeah."
And why would that be when the Flyers improved 14-5 in all games and 4-1 in the Atlantic 10, good enough for first place?
Because it was Xavier, UD's archrival/archenemy, The Game, a game that stuffs the building (13,435) and provokes the student section into ear-puncturing, non-stop white noise.
And the Flyer Faithful had 2 ½ hours of sheer pleasure Saturday afternoon as the Flyers plowed over Xavier, 87-72.
This is Miller's first year at Dayton but he knows what the Xavier game entails. His brother, Sean Miller, now head coach at Arizona, once was Xavier's head coach.
"It was the best win of the season for no other reason that it was Xavier," said Miller. "From our program's standpoint, there is no bigger game than Xavier (located 45 minutes down I-75 from UD Arena). That's what I was told when I got here and that's what I knew before I got here. And now that I am here, we respect it a lot."
To win the Atlantic-10 regular season championship, a team has to go through Xavier, which has won five straight regular-season titles.
The Musketeers, picked to win the A-10 while Dayton was, in horse racing parlance, in the field -- picked far down the pack. Xavier began the season 8-0, but its eighth win was a blowout of the University of Cincinnati that ended in a brawl.
The Musketeers lost four of their next five, but had righted themselves and had won three straight and was 4-1 in the A-10 when they walked into UD Arena.
The Musketeers took a 3-0 lead on Dezmine Wells' shot, the last lead 'X' would own. Paul Williams tied it with a three-pointer and the Flyers never stopped, leading by 13 at halftime, 46-33.
And they never took their feet off X's neck in the second half, never permitted the monster to lurk in the shadows. Xavier crept within 11 with 10 minutes left, 64-53, but Williams buried another three-pointer and that's the way it went -- every time Xavier did something good, the Flyers did something better.
While the Flyers had a plethora of contributors, the eye-poppers were guard Kevin Dillard and post man Matt Kavanaugh.
When Dillard wasn't scoring -- 16 points -- he was feeding -- nine assists. Most of his assists went to Kavanaugh, who missed only one of his nine shots en route to 20 points and scraping the backboards for game-high nine rebounds.
On the Xavier side, guards Tu Holloway (21) and Mark Lyons (20) got their points, but the Flyers shut down the inside game, holding 7-foot center Kenny Frease to five points and only eight shots and Dezmine Wells to five points and only six shots.
Yes, Tu Holloway had 21, but 14 came in the second half and they were Tu little and Tu late.
Dillard, a transfer from Southern Illinois, watched the UD-Xavier games in street clothes last year and awaited this game with passionate expectations.
"The UD-Xavier game is always a big rivalry and they have a great team with some great talent," said Dillard. "I got them the ball and my teammates made some big plays and some big shots when we needed them.
"This game was everything I thought it would be -- and more," said Dillard. "I had goose bumps before the game, hearing the crowd."
Of his point guard, Miller said, "Kevin is the best. I know if you took him off our team, no team would be devastated more. And that's no secret. Everybody's game plan is for him. The amount of responsibility that falls on his shoulders far exceeds anybody on our team. Period. Not only does he play 38 minutes and score, he is pushing the ball the whole game, making the right play every time, guarding people, and making free throws at the end of a game. He is a True Player."
As Miller checked his statistical sheet, a couple of big numbers leaped to his attention: his Flyers outrebounded Xavier, 40-28, and his team had only 11 turnovers.
"It was the rebound margin and the turnovers," he said. "We couldn't have one without the other. If we turned it over, we were going to get smacked in transition because that's an explosive team. In their last three wins they've had spurts like 18-2 and we stopped that.
"They are a great rebounding team, but we are where we are right now because everything about us has to do with rebounding," he added. "We're consumed with it. You don't have to be the biggest to get the rebound. If we rebound, we know we have a chance to win games."
And that's where Kavanaugh's emplacement under the basket comes to bear.
"Matt Kavanaugh has probably had as two good of games as I've seen, in terms of what he does," said Miller. "I can't tell you how hard I am on him in practice and some point in time he is probably going to club me. But he has come a far, far, far point from where he was when we got here."
Dillard knows the importance of putting the ball in Kavanaugh's hands for point-blank shots, which he doesn't miss.
"Kavanaugh is a big, big part of our game," said Dillard. "He is a banger and a bruiser and he isn't afraid of any big man. He is essential to our success and we're going to keep feeding him the ball. If he doesn't have a good game, then we aren't as sharp."
That hasn't happened often.
Kavanaugh credits the sharp-shooting of Dillard and Williams (13 points) and Josh Parker (16 off the bench on 5 of 7 shooting), guys who soften the defense's underbelly.
"We have a lot guys buying into our system of sharing the ball and make cuts," said Kavanaugh. "We have a great playmaker in Kevin Dillard and shooters who open things up for me down low."
When asked what really makes things go for the Flyers this year, Dillard said, "Archie Miller. He has completely turned this program around and gives everybody confidence. He puts everybody into position to make plays they can make."
That, says Miller, comes from players accepting assigned roles.
"We have some guys who believe in each other more than anything else they are doing," said Miller. "When you believe and play well together, good things can happen. We're starting to show the fruits of our labor in terms of unselfishness that our kids have for everything."
Mostly, Dillard firmly believes if he puts the ball in Kavanaugh's hands, Kavanaugh will put the ball in the basket -- simple cause and effect.