Steven Wright – Sports Editor
Home court advantage is a factor in all sports, but it will be put to the test by a team that has gotten to make UD Arena a second home during postseason play the last two years.
Iona College will be the visiting team for the first time in the last few seasons at the arena when the University of Dayton men’s basketball team hosts the Gaels Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m.
“They’ve got a big swagger about them,” said head coach Archie Miller. “We have some very unique challenges. They shoot the ball really well. They push it. They’re going to play us matchup zone-zone. They’re going to give us a lot of extended zones. We’re going to get their best shot, but it’s going to be a concerning game for us on the defensive side of the ball.”
An NCAA Tournament team in 2012 and 2013, Iona played both seasons in Dayton against Brigham Young University and the Ohio State University, respectively, giving them more of a taste for the arena’s atmosphere than some Atlantic 10 Conference foes receive.
Iona (5-3), coming off a 102-89 home loss to St. Bonaventure University, enters Thursday as one of the highest scoring teams in the country, averaging just over 80 points per game. The Gaels also are one of the top 3-point shooting teams, making 9.6 per game to rank in the top 10. They are also one of the top assist teams, creating one on over 60 percent of their made shots.
Iona junior guard Sean Armand is a top 10 scorer with 23.1 points per game. He has scored at least 20 in the team’s last five games and 30 twice in that span, and has only been on the bench for 14 minutes in the Gael’s eight games.
Miller said he expects to mix different combinations on the floor and may not give as many minutes to typical groupings the team has used because of the offensive challenges Iona brings.
Expect the Gaels to be a great penetrating team that is going to shoot the ball well, according to Miller.
Dayton (8-2) played its best game of the season at home against Central Michigan University, winning 84-58 Thursday, Dec. 14. The game started a five-game home stretch for the Flyers, who had six players scoring at least nine points against CMU.
Redshirt senior guard Vee Sanford said the team hasn’t been playing its best basketball at home this season, and knows how important the current home stand will be for the rest of the season. He said the only advantage at UD Arena belongs to Dayton.
“It’s always an advantage, especially with the fans here,” Sanford said. “[Iona] played here in the tournament, but it’s a different atmosphere when you’re playing against the University of Dayton at home.”
Miller said Iona will be the best opponent his team has played at home this year, and expects them to come in thinking they will win. He said Dayton will have to be ready to go mentally and physically, but hopes home court plays a factor as well.
“Pressure is on in every game that we play,” Miller said. “Teams that come in here know the circumstances they’re getting ready to come into.
“For us to be at our best, for us to win these games against these type of teams, our crowd really carries us. Our crowd is going to have to carry us on Thursday, … and our players are really going to have to be at their best, but at the same time, we’re going to need a little bit extra help.”