By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
After three consecutive home victories over Southeast Missouri State, Alabama and William & Mary to begin the season, the Dayton men’s basketball team traveled down to Orlando, Florida, last weekend to take part in the AdvoCare Invitational.
The team left Orlando with a 5-1 overall record and a 2-1 showing in the invitational, including an appearance in the championship game.
That championship appearance, though, was basically all it was for Dayton. The Flyers were manhandled 90-61 by the Musketeers in a game that did not live up to the hype that naturally preceded the matchup of the two bitter rivals.
Xavier left the Atlantic 10 conference after the 2012-13 season to join the Big East Conference. The series between the two programs started in 1920 and has seen over 150 matchups since then, but the two teams had not met on the court since February of 2013.
This year’s matchup was all Xavier, all the time. The Musketeers led from start to finish and grew their lead to as big as 33 points late in the second half.
Dayton got within two points a little more than halfway into the first half on two free throws by junior forward Kendall Pollard that cut Xavier’s lead down to 20-18 with 9:25 left in the half.
The Flyers would not come any closer the rest of the game, as Xavier pulled off an 8-0 run right after those free throws. The Musketeers led by as many as 13 in the half, but Dayton cut the deficit to eight by halftime, trailing 43-35 at the break.
Dayton had 22 turnovers on the night, 11 in each half. The first-half turnovers proved especially costly, as head coach Archie Miller’s team actually shot 50 percent from the field in the half, but attempted 13 fewer shots than Xavier did due to Xavier getting so many extra possessions.
Xavier also triumphed over Dayton in the rebounding battle, grabbing 19, including six offensive rebounds, in the first half compared to Dayton’s 14 total—only one of which was offensive—rebounds.
The AdvoCare Invitational was not without success for Dayton, however.
The Flyers got two wins in the first two rounds to advance to the title game, beating Iowa and Monmouth, respectively.
Dayton beat Iowa 82-77 on Thanksgiving night, and were led by redshirt junior Charles Cooke, who had a season-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Cooke also converted 4-of-5 free throws.
Pollard and junior guard Kyle Davis had 16 points each, and junior point guard Scoochie Smith joined them in double figures with 11 points and added seven assists.
After a back-and-forth affair for most of the first half, Dayton opened up a six-point halftime lead.
The Flyers led by as many as 14 early in the second half, and were up by 10, 69-59, with 8:15 left in the game.
Iowa then stormed on a 13-0 run to take a 72-69 lead with 3:10 to play.
“You play a [team with the] caliber of an Iowa, [with] that type of experience, that type of system, it’s very difficult to prepare for them,” Miller said to the media after the game. “I thought our guys worked extremely hard. [We] played with great energy, great effort, [and] knew they would make runs.”
The Hawkeyes took a 77-76 lead with a minute to play before Cooke sank two free throws to put the Flyers back up by one with 50 seconds to go. Dayton would add a layup by Smith and two more free throws from Cooke in the final seconds to secure the victory.
The game was played in front of a tournament-record crowd of 4,871 at the HP Field House on Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports campus.
The Flyer faithful made up a majority of the crowd, and were vocal throughout the weekend.
“The fans did a good job, staying on their feet all night,” Pollard said after the Iowa game. “We appreciate those guys.”
Dayton beat Monmouth 73-70 in the semifinals Friday night.
In a game similar to the previous night’s Iowa victory, Dayton held a 16-point second half lead before Monmouth went on a 25-7 run to cut the lead to 68-67 with less than two minutes to go.
The Flyers, however, never relinquished the lead and clinched their berth in Sunday’s final. Scoochie Smith had a career-high 19 points and eight rebounds, which also tied a career high.
Dayton gets almost a week off before hosting North Florida (5-2), an NCAA Tournament team last year, Saturday at 2 p.m. at UD Arena.
Photo: Dayton junior forward Kendall Pollard, shown above struggling with Xavier’s Myles Davis, led the Flyers with 15 points in their 90-61 loss to Xavier in the finals of the AdvoCare Invitational. Photo courtesy of Ron Thaman.