By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
The University of Dayton men’s basketball team hung with the No. 1 team in the country for as long as they could.
The NCAA tournament’s top overall seed, the University of Florida, was too much in the end for Dayton, ending their season 62-52 in the regional finals Saturday, March 29, at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.
“Congratulations to Florida,” head coach Archie Miller said. “That’s a very good team. To be on the same floor and to be able to compete with them, big time feeling.”
Florida jumped on Dayton out of the gate in hitting their first three shot attempts, but Dayton didn’t falter.
UD grabbed its first lead of the game at 21-19 off a 3-pointer by Smith with 6:58 left in the first half.
After four straight points for Florida, freshman forward Kendall Pollard tied the game with a layup. However, Florida took off from that point. Holding UD without a field goal for the last 4:41 of the half, the Gators went on a 15-1 run to end the half and lead 38-24, capped by a 3-pointer by senior guard Scottie Wilbekin with a second left. Wilbekin led all scorers with 23 points in the game.
UD showed early signs of life to start the second half, hitting a pair of threes to cut the lead to eight, but a timeout from Florida head coach Billy Donovan put a quick end to Dayton’s momentum.
Down by 17, Dayton made a final run, cutting the lead to eight on a layup by sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre with 3:55 to go. Florida though grabbed four offensive rebounds on its next possession, but was unable to score. UD wasn’t able to cut down the lead any further on any of its next three chances. Florida hit free throws down the stretch to extend its lead and end the Flyers’ season.
“I can’t knock them, they’re No. 1 for a reason,” redshirt senior guard Vee Sanford said. “They beat us, they better win the national championship.”
Senior forward Devin Oliver ended his career with a 12-point performance, all coming from the 3-point line, to go with six rebounds. Guard Vee Sanford was held to four points.
Pierre led Dayton with 18 points and five assists.
Dayton’s leading scorer, redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert at 12.5 points per game, went scoreless in the game on 0-for-3 shooting, and didn’t attempt a shot in the final 34 minutes.
“Credit to them, they did a good job of denying me,” Sibert said. “They denied me the ball, I couldn’t get to the line.
Teammates tried to find me, but credit to them.”
The game was Florida’s fourth straight appearance in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament, but the first time during that stretch they were able to advance past the Elite Eight.
Oliver and Pierre were announced as All-Region Team players following the game, along with Stanford University’s Dwight Powell, Frazier II, and Wilbekin, who was the Most Outstanding Player.
UD’s tournament run was its deepest since 1984, when it fell to the University of California, Los Angeles in the Elite Eight.
The season ends for Dayton one game short of its first Final Four appearance since 1967, but Miller said the team will regroup, keep the same vision it had throughout this season and find a way back to the same point.
“In terms of us, it’s always hard to lose the last game of the season, but in the back of my mind, I’m not sure that a team in the nation probably captured more people’s hearts than these guys did,” he said. “They did it the right way.”