By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
Entering the last game of the team’s non-conference schedule, University of Dayton head coach Archie Miller said the team’s defensive effort has consistently determined the fate of each game so far this season.
Dayton’s next test will be one of its toughest against University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m.
UD gave up almost 70 points per game in the team’s first five games following the EA Sports Maui Invitational, but has improved its defense in its last two contests, holding Murray State University and Winthrop University to 51 and 47 points, respectively.
To wrap up play before Atlantic 10 Conference action, Dayton goes on the road against a familiar foe with a strong offense.
Dayton last played Ole Miss two seasons ago, winning 62-50 on Dec. 30, 2012. The game wrapped up a three year span in which UD defeated the Rebels each season. However, only senior forward Devin Oliver and redshirt senior center Matt
Kavanaugh remain from that squad.
Ole Miss redshirt senior guard Marshall Henderson was also not part of those matchups but figures to be a key factor.
Miller called Henderson a game changer, who with junior guard Jarvis Summers combine to average almost 36 points per game this season.
“Those two guys are probably leading the nation as a combination of guards in a scoring tandem,” Miller said. ”
[Henderson is] a polarizing guy out there that can really numb you from the 3-point line.”
The 6-foot, 2-inch Henderson has gone through a shaky collegiate career, filled with drug and behavior related suspensions. He made four different stops in five seasons before landing at Ole Miss the last two years.
Henderson missed the first three games this season after being suspended indefinitely on July 10, 2013, when he was caught by police with marijuana and cocaine, according to a USA Today report from July 12, 2013.
Back in the starting lineup for the Rebels’ last four games, Miller said Henderson will be on of many challenges Dayton’s defense will face.
The Rebels average 79.8 points per game and are in the top 50 in the NCAA in 3-point shooting as a team. Henderson has taken 78 percent of this shots this season from behind the arc, shooting 39 percent.
Dayton has done nothing but work on defense in practice following the team’s Christmas break. According to Miller, any improvements will be tested Saturday.
“We had to draw a line in the sand, because this season, at the end of the day, will be made at that end of the floor,” Miller said. “That end of the floor has been subpar since we returned in the month of December and it cost us a game. … Last couple games we’ve built that up and we’ll see on Saturday on the road. That’ll be the true test.”
UD has never lost to the Rebels, and has won nine of its last 11 games against Southeastern Conference competition over the last 20 seasons.
Miller said Ole Miss will be a difficult challenge. However, he added this season’s non-conference schedule has already been one of the program’s more difficult ever.
Saturday will be nothing new for Dayton in terms of difficulty.
“We’re going to have to handle a lot of different types of defenses, which we haven’t done well,” Miller said.
“Defensively we’re going to have to really be on it. We’re going to have to play extremely hard on the road to beat a good team.
“This will be our third true non-conference game on the road. It’ll be our fifth or sixth game against a really good opponent. … It’ll be a great opportunity to compete on Saturday night.”