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Mike Lopresti | | December 31, 2014

Mid-major might

  Dayton concluded its non-conference season with wins against Georgia Tech and Mississippi.

DAYTON, Ohio -- First, look at Dayton’s active roster. Nobody taller than 6-foot-6.

Next, look at Dayton’s bench. The three reserves who play include a freshman, a 5-9 fifth-year senior transfer, and a walk-on.

Now, look at Dayton’s record. The Flyers are 10-2 after beating Ole Miss Tuesday night 78-74. So never mind they had only seven scholarship players available, and never mind  the starting and backup posts were removed from the team three games ago for off-court transgressions, and never mind there are plenty of high school teams with bigger lineups.

“Height-wise, it doesn’t matter to us,” guard Kyle Davis was saying. “It’s all about heart. Coach tells us every day to keep attacking, keep attacking. Can’t nobody stop us, because we’re really quick.”

You remember Dayton. The plucky bunch that stormed to the Elite Eight last March. Not that the Flyers are unacquainted with landing big fish. Tuesday’s 78-74 win against Mississippi makes them 28-10 against the so-called Power Five conferences the past eight seasons, including nine of the past 11 against the SEC and seven in a row against the ACC.

Jan. 4 Mississippi W, 83-80 (OT)
March 20 Ohio State W, 60-59
March 22 Syracuse W, 55-53
March 27 Stanford W, 82-72
March 29 Florida L, 62-52
Nov. 20 Texas A&M W, 55-53
Nov. 21 Connecticut L, 64-75
Nov. 22 Boston College W, 65-63
Dec. 13 Arkansas L, 69-55
Dec. 23 Georgia Tech W, 75-61
Dec. 30 Mississippi W, 78-74
Nice numbers. But just numbers, coach Archie Miller mentioned.

“Power Five to me means you have a football stadium,” Miller said. “I think we have a high major program, with high major expectations, and I think when we play those teams, our players think they’re just as good as them.’’

That goes for Dayton leading scorer Jordan Sibert, anyway.

“A win or a loss doesn’t have a number next to it, it’s just a W or an L,” he said. “We want as many Ws as possible.”

But what’s Dayton doing with so many Ws this season? When starting center and leading rebounder Devon Scott and backup Jalen Robinson were dismissed after an alleged dorm room theft, the Flyers were suddenly down-sized and depth-short. A couple of hours down I-75, Kentucky dominates with platoons of 6-10ers. But there is more than one path to happiness in college basketball. Dayton would have to do it with quickness, chemistry, purpose and effort.

“The first thing that happens as a coaching staff, they’re looking for your reaction to what’s going on,” Miller said of his players. “For them, there is absolutely zero letdown that’s going to come from us; the way we prepare, the way we practice. They had to adapt right away, but our guys are resilient.

“We got some hard-headed, tough kids. They’re not going to run for cover because something happens. Part of it is, I think our staff and our kids really embrace the opportunity to do something a lot of people probably don’t think we can do.”

So the Flyers faced their sudden jolt, and regrouped. They have beaten Boston University, Georgia Tech and Mississippi since. They were outrebounded by 12 against Georgia Tech and 11 against Ole Miss, but they found a way. They had only six turnovers and had 15 assists on 21 field goals against Georgia Tech. Attacking the basket, they shot 19 more free throws against Mississippi.

“We were already a tight family. When we lost our bigs, we reached out to them, but life goes on,” Davis said. “We became a tighter family.

“We know we’re undersized, but coach just preaches to us to just put fear in people’s eyes. That’s what we try to do every night.”

Sibert is a team captain and sounds it.

“We had to go through a lot, but our principals remain the same. We depend on each other a lot more because we know if we don’t play with each other and we don’t figure out a way to win with each other, we don’t have the bigs to take the pressure off. So we have to play hard and we have to play together.

“It’s so much fun. It’s good to look at your teammate and say, ‘You’re a tough guy. I know you’re 6-4, but I saw you down there with the 6-10 guy, battling.’ It’s just a blessing from God to have teammates like this.”

The self-assurance from last March helps, too. There’s Dyshawn Pierre, who scored so many big points against Ohio State and Syracuse. And Sibert, who put 18 on Stanford, as the Flyers showed up on the doorstep of the Final Four.  In the end, it took a 36-2 Florida team to stop them.

“There’s a huge confidence in the way we do things every day, especially for the players who were on that team,” Miller said. “They understand what it takes to win and what it feels like to win that that level, and I think their play speaks for it.

“We have guys out there right now that are juniors and sophomores that are playing out of position, that don’t care. They’re just being very selfless.’’

One other thing.

“Our effort,” Miller said, “is maybe at an all-time high.”

So the Flyers still thrive with a few good men, and now face their Atlantic 10 schedule. No more chances to add to that glowing Power Five record.

Not until March, anyway.

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