Last season, in the final throes of The Mid-Majority (RIP), I got to cover Dayton’s amazing run, which obviously ended just one game short of the Final Four.
What was striking to me then (and as I wrote here) was the small margins between success and failure when we get to this time of year, which of course was on full display all day in the Atlantic-10 quarterfinals in Brooklyn Friday.
You likely remember Dayton’s NCAA run, but you might have forgotten that they lost in a similar fashion in the A-10 quarterfinals last season when Langston Galloway of St. Joseph’s beat them with a controversial three-pointer. Dayton had a chance to win it at the death by Devin Oliver’s three-pointer missed.
At the time, the Flyers were slightly concerned about their NCAA fate, but they got in as a No. 11 seed and the rest is history. Buzzer-beater history, as Dayton survived both Aaron Craft and Tyler Ennis to make their amazing run.
A year later, here we were again in the A-10 quarterfinals, second-seeded Dayton trying to hold off an unconscious No. 7 St. Bonaventure and Dion Wright, who made his first 10 shots from the field and hit more three-pointers Friday night (4) than he had in his entire three-year career previous to Friday (3). But after plenty of back and forths, here was the Bonnies’ Marcus Posley – who had already beaten VCU and Davidson on buzzer-beaters earlier in the season in back-to-back games – trying to do the same (or at least tie the game) down 73-71. This time, again, Dayton made the big play, as Kendall Pollard got Dayton’s 10th steal of the night and the Flyers were off to the A-10 semifinals for the first time since 2011 in Atlantic City with a 75-71 victory.
“We just wanted to try to get the ball out of Posley’s hands,” senior Jordan Sibert said. “He did a great job all game and we wanted to try to key in on him. Credit to Kendall who did a great job of getting into the passing lane and getting that steal.”
Dayton (24-7) will have to lose any sweat on Selection Sunday this season, which is a testament to Archie Miller and his team, who don’t have a player over 6’6” after suspensions in December caused many to write them off. Again. It was Pollard who stepped up Friday, scoring a career high 26 and adding seven rebounds, but his biggest play might have been a pass to Sibert out of a double team that set up a Jordan Sibert three-pointer, giving Dayton the lead for good with 1:45 left.
“There’s not really that many new guys,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “The heartbeat of the team are the five returning guys. That’s the pulse; that’s sort of the core, and that core played in a lot of big games together all year. They have done it through March and they did it all year long this year. They have logged a ton of minutes and played a lot of games together, and they have been in some tough spots.”
The game was much more offensive than the stats coming in would indicate, which made it even more heartbreaking for St. Bonaventure (18-13), who likely ended their season. The Bonnies were able to piece together a 10-8 A-10 record, but did not have good offensive numbers, particularly shooting (46.6 eFG%, 276th nationally). Yet Friday, led by Wright and 26 points from Posley, the Bonnies posted a 67.4 eFG% (and 1.15 ppp) and still lost, thanks to 16 turnovers (25.8%) and just four offensive rebounds (21.1%) against the undersized Flyers.
“You know it’s disappointing when it’s all said and done, then it’s frustrating,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt, who won this tournament in 2012, said. “It’s disappointing. And most disappointing for the seniors because you know it’s the end and how much work they had put in, Chris (Dees) for two years and Youssou (Ndoye) for four years, and you just build up such great relationships with them. You know how disappointed they are and with all of the hard work that they have put in.”
Dayton will be a higher seed than it was last season, but overlook them at your own peril. Unless, of course, amor fati abandons them in a close game in the first round of the NCAAs.
Remember Galloway and St. Joseph’s last season? They went on to win the Atlantic 10 (becoming the final Atlantic One), but destiny forgot about them when they led Connecticut by three with 35 seconds left and looked to have the ball before UConn managed a three-point play, Galloway missed at the regulation buzzer, and the previously red-hot Hawks were eliminated.
As I went into hibernation after Dayton was eliminated, I’m not sure what happened to UConn, but I can only imagine that someone beat them, right? Right?
“It’s so hard to get a win,” Miller said. “There’s so much at stake for so many people, players and coaches, and I think this venue is terrific. Our guys were very excited to play here, and they will be very excited to play another one here. I mean, we’re in the semifinals. Couldn’t ask for anything better right now.”
Rhode Island 71, George Washington 58
Danny Hurley might see his name pop up should an opening (or two) at a big school in the NYC area become available in the next couple of weeks, and Friday night saw what has become a trademark Danny Hurley team’s performance.
The game was disjointed at times, Hurley spent periods questioning the officials, there was little flow, but man do his teams battle, especially on the defensive end. The Rams (22-8) have seemed to be one shooter short all season (they entered 340th in three-point shooting, 28.6%), but confounded and physically went after a pretty good Colonials’ offense and that was enough.
URI is now creeping closer to the bubble, but it will likely have to beat Dayton on Saturday afternoon to get their name anywhere near the correct side of the bubble, while for GW, it might be time to look at possibly selling tickets for an NIT game next week.