By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
The University of Dayton men’s basketball team picked up a much needed win to keep its bubble hopes alive for the NCAA tournament Saturday, March 1, at UD Arena.
Led by redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert’s 23 points, tying a career high, UD kicked off March by defeating the University of Massachusetts 86-79.
More importantly, the team gave no signs of a letdown coming off a blowout 26-point loss Tuesday, Feb. 25, in Philadelphia, Penn.
“I’m proud of our guys,” head coach Archie Miller said. “It was a terrific win against a pretty solid seed in the NCAA tournament. More importantly, coming off a very tough night in Philadelphia, to watch our guys respond in the last couple days, that’s kind of who we’ve been all season.”
Dayton (20-9, 8-6) found itself trailing 37-36 into halftime, but had already started its run to take control of the game as they entered the break. Threes from Sibert and sophomore guard Khari Price were followed by Sibert getting an and-one basket over UMass senior guard Chaz Williams. Sibert made the free throw to cap a 13-0 run for Dayton, spanning 3:47 of both halves, and gave them a 45-37 lead two minutes into the second half.
UMass cut the lead to four at 79-75 with a minute remaining, but Dayton connected on 7 of its 9 free throw attempts down the stretch to hold off the Minutemen.
“It’s a big win,” said redshirt senior guard Vee Sanford. “Every game we have left is a big win. We’re focused on the next game, but this is a great win for us, especially to bounce back.”
UD had five players in double figures. In addition to Sibert, sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre scored 16 points, Sanford had 15, senior forward Devin Oliver contributed 11 and Price added 10.
Price also tied a career high five assists, and Miller said with him guarding Williams for the majority of the game and playing 27 minutes to go with his stats, it was “probably about as special of an effort as you can.”
Oliver grabbed nine rebounds and had four assists.
“Devin Oliver’s line, you know that’s that famous line he has during the season where I know we’re going to win,” Miller said.
Williams scored 17 points for UMass, including his team’s final six points, but had to earn them through the game because of Dayton’s defensive pressure on him, as he went 5-for-17 from the field.
“Chaz is a great guard,” Sanford said. “Probably one of best point guards in the country. I feel like Khari did a great job containing him and keeping him off the ball screens. We did a great defensive scheme on Chaz and the other guards as well.”
UMass entered the game third in the Atlantic 10 Conference in field goal percentage defense at 41.3 percent, but UD shot 50 percent against the UMass defense, including a 56 percent second half effort.
Two weeks remain until Selection Sunday, when the NCAA tournament committee reveals its field of 68 teams on Sunday, March 16, at 6 p.m. In the minds of a few bracketologists, UD entered Saturday right on the bubble. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com had Dayton as the first team left out of the tournament, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi put them amongst the first eight teams currently out. The win over a top-20 RPI team in UMass will be a boost to UD’s postseason resume.
Sanford said while it’s everyone’s goal to make the NCAA tournament, the team can only focus on what it’s able to do each night, allowing things to work itself out.
Sibert said the goal is just to remain together, harboring back to the team’s initial theme this season.
“A lot of teams, they get tired with how long the season is and we’ve been at this since the summertime,” Sibert said.
“To get at this point, it’s hard, but if we keep staying together and keep having fun, we’ll get to where we want to go.”
Dayton has two games remaining on its schedule. The team takes on first-place Saint Louis University Wednesday, March 5, at 9 p.m. Miller said with 20 wins and the conference tournament ahead, he doesn’t think there been as far ahead of schedule in his tenure . He said after winning seven of its last eight games, it still comes down to taking care of their own business.
“This was really a gut-check game,” Miller said. “That’s a big game right there. This is March 1st. You’re playing an NCAA tournament team on your home floor. That’s one you got to knock out. Check the box and we’ll move into the next week.”