The most memorable player I’ve ever seen play in the under 5-foot-5 category is Eastern Michigan’s Earl Boykins. In the late 90s, he was one of the best players in the Mid-American Conference and averaged 25.7 points per game as a senior. I still remember OU fans heckling him in Athens, but he was a big-time player. He was still playing in the NBA at age 35 up until three seasons ago.
Boykins played at UD Arena in 1997 and scored 33 points in a 81-76 loss to the Flyers. The Eagles played the Flyers again in 1998, a year after his career ended, and Dayton won big, 83-58. They return to Dayton for the first time since that game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Here’s a look back at that 1997 game with the game story from Bucky Albers:
Given a difficult defensive workout by Eastern Michigan’s sensational Earl Boykins, Dayton’s Edwin Young repaid the 5-foot-5 guard by blocking two of his shots in the last 2:05 Saturday night.
More than anything else, those two defensive plays enabled the Flyers to beat Eastern, 81-76, before a crowd of 10,086 at the UD Arena.
“Those were big-time plays,” UD coach Oliver Purnell said. “He saved the game. To win games like this, we need guys to make plays.”
Boykins, billed as the best little man in the country by Sports Illustrated magazine, dazzled the audience with 33 points – 26 during a furious second-half rally – as the Eagles reduced a 17-point deficit to three with 4:04 remaining.
Boykins was on fire, making 15 of 17 EMU points during one run. He made jump shots from all over the court and mixed in some driving layups.
But with little more than two minutes to play and Dayton leading 70-65, Boykins had a 3-point shot blocked by Young, and the crowd roared its approval.
Boykins responded with a layup in transition, cutting the UD lead to 70-67. But Coby Turner sank two free throws at 1:10, and then Young got his mitts on a fadeaway jumper by Boykins. The crowd roared again.
Eastern had to foul, and Dayton responded by making 11 of 14 free throws in the last 1:10 to level its record at 3-3.
Although he stopped Boykins on two key possessions, Young came away with admiration for the celebrated senior from Cleveland.
“He is a great ballplayer,” Young said. “Now I know why he was in SI . This was the biggest challenge of my career, and I learned a lot from him. His stature didn’t mean nothing. He just shot fadeaways.”
Young, who missed UD’s last game because of a concussion he suffered in a collision during last Saturday’s game with South Florida, decided to contest Boykins a little more when he got the two blocks.
“I tried as hard as possible to make it hard for him to shoot,” Young said.
“It’s a good thing he blocked those two,” Purnell said. “I don’t think the guy would have missed.”
With 18 seconds left and UD clinging to a 78-74 lead, UD center Mark Ashman deflected a 3-point shot by EMU’s James Head. Andy Metzler grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Ashman’s defensive play and his two free throws 14 seconds later sealed the game.
“We came into the game with the goal of re-establishing our home court as a place to win, and we did that,” said Purnell, whose team lost its first two home games to Murray State and Miami.
Coby Turner led Dayton in scoring with 19 points, but it was his career-high 10 rebounds that pleased Purnell most. EMU had grabbed 14 offensive rebounds in the first half, and Purnell thought that was the most significant reason the Eagles were still in the game at intermission.
“We really had a chance to blow the game open, but we didn’t do a good job on the defensive glass,” Purnell said. Turner grabbed nine of his rebounds in the second half.
Freshman guard Tony Stanley scored 18 points – 15 in the first half when Dayton made 67 percent of its shots.
Boykins, who was playing with a headache as a result of a concussion he received last Saturday, said Young did a good defensive job on him. He was disappointed to lose.
“There’s no excuse for the way we played,” he said. “We just started the game out flat.”