Jed Gerlach/Staff Photographer
By: Keith Raad – Sports Editor
Stifling defense and crowd support propelled Dayton into the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32 Friday as Providence College turned the ball over 16 times against active Flyers hands.
Sophomore guard Kyle Davis poked five steals against the Friars fronted by Big East Conference Player of the Year sophomore Kris Dunn.
“Kyle is the driving force on defense for us,” redshirt senior guard Jordan Sibert said. “And without him … we wouldn’t have won half the games this season.”
Davis guarded Dunn during most of the game, holding the sophomore to 11 points on four of 13 from the field, and seven turnovers.
“I don’t know that we would have gotten that win tonight,” Sibert said. “He did a terrific job on Dunn tonight.”
Dunn joined Friars senior forward LaDontae Henton as two Providence stand-outs to watch. Henton, a First Team All-Big East selection, averaged close to 20 points per game. Henton managed 18 points on 26 attempts. In the 66-53 loss to Dayton, Henton shot 27 percent, 19 percentage points lower than his average of 46.
“When the shot’s not falling for a lot of guys, we played bad offensively,” Henton said. “We turned the ball over. It was just one of those days for us.”
In the first 20 minutes, the Dayton crowd backed the ‘small ball seven’s’ offense, which came mostly from the free throw line. The third best team in the nation in free throw rate salvaged 28 points in the first half. Shooting just 8 of 20 from the floor, Dayton added 10 points from the line.
Ahead by three points at the break, Dayton never looked back, thanks to junior forward Dyshawn Pierre.
The Canadian dropped 20 points for the first time in a month, including a monstrous 3-pointer to bring the lead from six points to nine with 10:23 remaining. The shot forced Providence head coach Ed Cooley into a timeout.
“When the game got tight, they made a couple of big plays,” Cooley said. “We had some errors.”
It all began at the top with sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith. The Bronx native didn’t take a breath all game.
“Can’t afford [to be tired],” Smith said.
Flyers head coach Archie Miller moved to 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament. The confidence of this season’s team grew from the experience of beating Ohio State University, Syracuse University and Stanford University last season.
“I think being in the tournament with so many guys that played a year ago is a benefit,” Miller said. “You may be shorthanded, but five players that started the game tonight played in an Elite Eight a year ago. There’s some familiarity to the game and how it’s played at this stage.”
Providence boasted Dunn as a sophomore, but the Connecticut native missed last season’s tournament appearance. His experience matched the Friars other two starters, freshmen Jalen Lindsey and Ben Bentil as first years in the Big Dance.
When told that his team looked nervous, Cooley quickly rejected the idea.
“I disagree with you,” Cooley said. “They played decent defense. I thought we were in a rush. The term nervous to me, that doesn’t sit well to me.”
Miller, on the other hand, felt “very, very confident in what [they’re] trying to do.”
“It’s one thing to go out there with a group of guys that aren’t together or hope the play well,” Miller said. “It’s another thing to take a group of people who absolutely sell out every single day.”
Set for their sixth game in 10 days, the ‘small ball seven’ matches up the round of 32 with the University of Oklahoma Sooners who escaped University of Albany Friday night.
Tipoff is 6:10 p.m. Sunday on TNT.