Devon Scott dunks Thursday against Texas A&M. David Jablonski/Staff
It’s Friday morning here in San Juan. The door to the balcony is open. I can hear the waves. I’m imagining standing on a cold sideline at a high school football game tonight, as I’ve done many years in the past at this time in November. OK, not really. Better to stay in the present when the present is so beautiful.
If not for a strong final four minutes by the Flyers (see photos here), if not for Devon Scott’s left hand and a friendly roll on an often not-so-friendly rim, I would be getting ready to head to the arena right now to see the Flyers play College of Charleston. Instead, the Flyers and their fans get what they wanted when the Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced the bracket: a date with Connecticut at 2:30 (Ohio time) today on ESPN2.
UConn has six beat writers here. Dayton has one (me). I’m not going to win the battle of copy inches, but I think the Flyers have a fighting chance against the defending national champion. We’ll see.
Here are five things we learned last night:
1. The Flyers still know how to win.
I wondered if Dayton’s poise and determination in the final minutes of games from last season (see IPFW, Ole Miss, St. Bonaventure, Ohio State and Syracuse games for examples) would carry over to this season. Or did Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Matt Kavanaugh take that with them to Europe? I think UD answered that question with their comeback Thursday. Here’s the lede of my game story in today’s paper.
Chants of “We are UD” echoed throughout Coliseo Robert Clemente in the final minute. The Flyer Faithful escaped the clutches of frigid temperatures in Ohio to bask in the sun of San Juan this week, not knowing whether their vacation would include any of the magic they witnessed a year ago at the Maui Invitational or last March in the NCAA tournament.
Dayton’s fans, numbering close to 800, saw their loyalty rewarded right away. Junior forward Devon Scott tipped in a missed layup by sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith with 1.2 seconds left to give the Flyers a 55-53 victory Thursday over Texas A&M in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
“The play was set up for Scoochie to get a screen from Kendall (Pollard) and make a play from there,” Scott said (video interview here). “My mindset as he was coming down the lane was to get on the glass no matter what. Miss, make or whatever, I just wanted to make sure I was up there. It just happened to roll my way.”
The Flyers (2-0) will play defending national champion Connecticut (2-0) at 2:30 p.m. today in the semifinals. The game will be televised on ESPN2. No. 17 Connecticut beat College of Charleston 65-57 in the second game Thursday.
Dayton overcame a lopsided rebounding margin (47-26 in favor of Texas A&M), poor 3-point shooting (2-of-18) and early foul trouble (six in the first four minutes) to improve to 8-2 at in-season tournaments in coach Archie Miller’s four seasons.
The Flyers trailed 50-45 with 3:39 to play. They ended the game with a 10-3 run.
2. Kyle Davis’ scoring ability is the surprise of the season so far.
The sophomore guard was a defensive stopper last season. Dayton didn’t need him to score. He averaged 2.0 points per game and scored a total of 70 points.
Last night, Davis scored 10. He ranks second on the team through two games with an 11.5 average. I wrote about Davis in today’s paper:
Last year, Davis didn’t play in Dayton’s second game at the Maui Invitational against Baylor. Coach Archie Miller told Davis after that game they might have won if he had found Davis some playing time. Davis responded by scoring a season-high 12 points in the next game against California in Maui.
Davis scored a career-high 13 against Alabama A&M in Dayton’s season opener last Friday and played a team-high 34 minutes Thursday. Miller said he couldn’t afford to take Davis off the floor. He played that well.
“We’ve got new guys in new roles,” Miller said. “They’ve got to embrace them. They’ve got to understand what we’re trying to do and clean some things up. They’re winners, so we’ll keep getting better.”
3. The Flyers have more fans here than anybody.
I hesitate to say the Flyers have as many fans as the other seven teams combined, but if they don’t, it’s close. Reportedly, there are 800 fans here. I doubt Texas A&M has 100 fans here total, same with UConn. New Mexico and Boston College had a decent turnout last night. I didn’t stay for the last game between West Virginia and George Mason.
I awarded UD Fan of the Game status to the guy wearing a Santa Claus hat in the stands. If that kind of support is worth even two points in a game, well, the Flyers can thank their fans for that victory.
4. Dayton has a chance against No. 17 UConn.
Charleston kept it close with the defending national champs in the second game Thursday. It was a four-point game in the final minute. Last year, an A-10 team, St. Joseph’s, nearly ended UConn’s national championship hopes in the first round. The Hawks lost to the Huskies in overtime.
The Huskies lost 65 percent of their points from that team, 55 percent of their rebounding, 60 percent of their assists and 77 percent of their 3-pointers. Their best player is 6-0 senior guard Ryan Boatright. They also have a former McDonald’s All-American and transfer from N.C. State, the 6-4 Rodney Purvis; and a 6-7 freshman top-30 recruit, Daniel Hamilton. Their biggest big man is a 7-footer, Amida Brimah.
The Huskies, like the Flyers, are a work in progress. They beat Bryant 66-53 in their opener after trailing by six points at halftime and beat Charleston 65-57 last night.
5. Dayton already has a notch on its NCAA tournament resume.
It’s really too early to talk RPI as most teams have played only one or two games at this point, but what the heck. According to RPIForecast.com, Dayton stands at 41 after last night’s win.
Win or lose, today’s game against UConn will help Dayton’s strength of schedule. For what it’s worth, KenPom.com predicts a 63-60 victory for UConn over Dayton and gives the Flyers a 35 percent chance of winning. It predicted a two-point UD victory yesterday.