One date stands out like a blister that refuses to callus among those who follow the men’s basketball program at the University of Dayton.
Jan. 10, 1981.
Dayton enters Wednesday’s game at Xavier University on a 27-game losing streak in Cincinnati. But, the majority of its current roster has not been a part of the recent play.
Only three players return from last season who saw playing time against the Musketeers. Senior guard Kevin Dillard and forward Josh Benson, along with junior forward Devin Oliver will go into the Cintas Center knowing what to expect, but the key for Dayton may reside in its core that will venture south for the first time.
Freshman forward Dyshawn Pierre began the season as an overlooked piece in the incoming class, but has emerged into a starting role and shoots 54 percent from the floor. Forward Jalen Robinson entered the year as a top-100 recruit, according to several online recruiting websites, but has needed the grind of collegiate play to adjust to a more physical style. His mindset of turning defense into offensive opportunities has played a role.
Redshirt sophomore forward Matt Derenbecker is a threat from long distance off the bench. All but 11 of his shot attempts this season have come from behind the 3-point line, where he is a 44 percent shooter.
Redshirt junior guard Vee Sanford, a Georgetown transfer, may be the player to watch on offense in determining Dayton’s success this season. During a win, Sanford has average just under 15 points and a single turnover, but under 10 points and more than three turnovers in losses.
Sanford’s ball handling in losses though hasn’t only been a problem for him. The story of Dayton’s season has been its problems with turning the ball over on offense. In its first two A-10 road games this season, the team has given the ball away a combined 50 times in falling to VCU and La Salle.
Dayton in its previous four visits to the Cintas Center has committed an average of 24 fouls per game.
It’s these two things Dayton head coach Archie Miller said he expects to play large roles in determining the outcome.
“Xavier is a physical team,” he said. “They rebound well, they drive well, they post it. Foul trouble will be a problem, but they play a very tight man to man defense as well, so our kids have to read that and have to play without turning it over.”
It’s Xavier’s defense that I have seen as defining its success this season, taking a larger role over its offense. It has been a staple for Xavier over the previous decade.
This year’s team primarily has been different from in previous year’s though at the free throw line. It has become normal to see a strong, attack presence that turns into numerous chances at the line over the years, where they have regularly shot better than 70 percent.
The 65 percent rate Xavier is shooting this season, and just 59 in its eight losses, shows a cause for concern that Dayton will need to exploit.
Miller said Dayton in competing is going to have to lay it all on the line, because he expects Xavier to as well. He said in the grand scheme of things, he sees Wednesday as just the sixth conference game of the year, but knows the excitement that comes in another chance to win in Cincinnati is easy to get caught up in.
“I’d be probably lying to say the team doesn’t want to be the team to go down there and win the game,” he said. “I think our older guys who sat in that locker room last year with an opportunity to play in this game know how hard it really is and how much every play really matters.”
His thoughts have long been echoed by those who are again hoping Wednesday becomes a new date to remember in Flyers’ history.