Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver last year in St. Louis. David Jablonski/Staff
I usually dive deeper back into the archives for these stories, but I’m stepping back 11 months for this one. The Flyers return to Chaifetz Arena tonight for the first time since stunning Saint Louis on Senior Night last March.
In a lot of ways, that victory got the Flyers to the NCAA tournament. Without that victory, the Elite Eight might never have happened.
Here are my stories from the March 6 and March 7, 2014, editions of the Dayton Daily News:
UD stuns Billikens
The voice of the Flyers, WHIO’s Larry Hansgen, spotted a pair of scissors taped to a ladder at Chaifetz Arena on Wednesday. Unless there was a rock and a piece of paper nearby, this was a good sign Saint Louis planned to clinch the Atlantic 10 regular-season title on Senior Night against the Flyers.
That didn’t happen.
Dayton earned the biggest victory of the Archie Miller era with an amazing finishing kick in the last six minutes, beating Saint Louis 72-67.
An 11-2 run gave the Flyers (21-9) the lead for good with under four minutes left. And after a nine-point lead shrunk to one in the final minute, Dayton held on for its second straight win over a top-20 RPI team.
Jordan Sibert led the Flyers with 14 points. Dyshawn Pierre scored 11. Jalen Robinson had 10 points, including two big 3-pointers late in the game.
Kendall Pollard had nine points off the bench.
Entering the game, it was hard to tell who needed a victory more. Saint Louis (25-5) needed to win to earn the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament and erase the sting of two straight losses, which started to raise doubts about the team’s chances in March after a school-record 19-game winning streak.
On other hand, the Billikens long ago wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid. The Flyers needed this victory to take a huge step toward gaining an at-large bid. Dayton trailed 39-32 at halftime.
Late start: Scheduled to start at 9 p.m., the game got pushed back fi ve minutes because of the earlier game between Louisville and Southern Methodist. It was the second straight 9 p.m. game for the Flyers to be delayed.
Next game: Dayton hosts Richmond at 7 p.m. Saturday. It will be the last regular-season home game for seniors Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Matt Kavanaugh and also walk-on Brian Vonderhaar.
Richmond (18-11, 8-6) plays its final home game at 9 tonight against crosstown rival Virginia Commonwealth (22-7, 10-4).
NCAA dream is almost a reality
The Billiken mascot waited just off the floor at Chaifetz Arena before the Flyers took the court Wednesday against Saint Louis. As mascots go, give the Billiken credit for being original, but he’s also just a little bit scary. You wouldn’t hire it to perform at your kid’s birthday party.
Maybe the Flyers noticed it, but they didn’t act as if they did. The players ran past it and into the maelstrom. A raucous crowd of 10,395 expected to see Saint Louis dominate. At times, the Billikens did, building a 10-point lead in the fi rst minute of the second half.
For about a four-minute span, though, in the final six minutes, the Flyers were so much better than the Billikens that the other 36 minutes didn’t matter. A 16-2 run carried Dayton to probably its most important victory since the NIT championship game in 2010.
The Flyers won 72-67 because they were able to tune out that Billiken, tune out the crowd and concentrate on making shots and getting stops. That’s been a key to their success since Feb. 1 and a big reason they have won eight of their last nine games, their best late-season conference run since they won the last seven games on the Midwestern Collegiate Conference schedule in 1990. Until Wednesday, they had lost their last A-10 road game of the season five years in a row.
Now the Flyers (21-9, 9-6) need at least one more victory, probably two, to distance themselves from the bubble and firmly plant their flag in the NCAA tournament field. They host Richmond at 7 p.m. Saturday and could play Duquesne or Rhode Island in the first round of the A-10 tournament next Thursday in Brooklyn. That bracket won’t become clear until Sunday when the final two A-10 regular-season games take place.
“We’re not worried about the bubble,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “The great thing about this team is we’ve eliminated all the noise. We had to do that back in January when nobody liked us, when we weren’t playing well. It’s been a constant, everyday fight for ourselves, to just stay together, to be about the right things. We have high-character guys.”
For what it’s worth, bracketology experts such as Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports now think Dayton will make the tournament field.
Palm elevated the Flyers to a No. 11 seed, playing Memphis in his latest prediction. Lunardi lists Dayton as one of the “Last Four In” and predicts it’ll earn a No. 12 seed and play Tennessee in the First Four. The University of North Florida “Dance Card” ranks Dayton 33rd in the country and gives it a 100 percent chance, at this point, of earning a bid.
The Flyers, ranked 44th in the RPI on Thursday according to ESPN, are 4-2 against top-30 RPI teams.
“One through 12, each guy showed you (Wednesday) they’re all about the right things,” Miller said. “We’ve been about that for a long time. They can talk about bubbles and tournaments all they want, but until that Sunday, nobody knows what’s really going on. We’re going to focus in on really trying to honor our seniors over the next 48 hours in practice. We’ve got to be ready to go Saturday.”