By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
After surging to the top of the Atlantic 10 conference standings through the first 12 league games, the Dayton men’s basketball team has lost two games in a row for the first time since January 2014.
With a 79-70 loss at St. Joseph’s on Wednesday night and a 79-72 home defeat at the hands of St. Bonaventure Saturday afternoon, the Flyers now sit in third place at 11-3, and are 21-5 overall.
Head coach Archie Miller’s squad came into Wednesday night’s matchup in Philadelphia as the 15th-ranked team in the nation, according to the Associated Press poll. St. Joseph’s received votes in that poll as well, falling outside the top 25, and proved that it belonged in the conversation.
The Flyers were playing their second consecutive game without starting junior forward Kendall Pollard, who has been sidelined with a knee injury. Freshman forward Sam Miller started in his place for the second straight time, finishing with four points, one rebound and two turnovers.
Offense was hard to come by in the first half for UD, especially from behind the 3-point line, and the Flyers faced a 36-27 halftime deficit. Dayton shot 2-of-13 from 3 in the first half and didn’t finish the game much better, finishing 8-of-31. The 31 3-point attempts are a season high.
Senior forward Dyshawn Pierre played all 40 minutes against the Hawks and had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Redshirt junior guard Charles Cooke led the team with 16 points, and junior point guard Scoochie Smith had 11 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a steal.
The city of Philadelphia has not been so loving toward the Flyers in recent years. Dayton suffered what had been its only conference loss at that point to last-place La Salle, which also calls Philadelphia home, on Jan. 9. Dayton has also not won at St. Joseph’s since 2000, an eight-game losing streak.
With Dayton riding a 20-game win streak in conference games at UD Arena, expectations were high that the Flyers would turn things around against St. Bonaventure.
The Bonnies were coming off of their own loss at La Salle on Feb. 17, and desperately needed a win to catapult themselves back into contention for the regular season conference title.
St. Bonaventure played with that desperation from start to finish, showing an energy and urgency that Dayton was never quite able to match.
“I’d like to give St. Bonaventure a lot of credit,” Miller said after the game. “Right out of the gates they set the tone, had a swagger about them.”
Sophomore guard Jaylen Adams provided a lot of that swagger for the Bonnies. Adams tied a season-high with 31 points on Saturday, shooting 8-of-19 from the floor and 5-of-9 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-2 guard also added six rebounds, six assists and two steals while knocking down all 10 of his free throw attempts. He played all 40 minutes and did not commit a turnover.
“He’s one of the best guards I think that I’ve coached against,” Miller said. “To do what he’s able to do and never come out of the game is incredible. He set the tone very early on.”
The Bonnies led by as many as 10 points less than four minutes into the game, forcing Dayton to chip away almost from the outset. The Flyers did take a temporary lead, 36-35, with under a minute to play in the first half on two Smith free throws, but St. Bonaventure ended the half on a 5-0 run to take a 40-36 halftime lead.
Dayton never led by more than two at any point in the second half. Each time the Flyers cut SBU’s lead to one or two or took a lead themselves, the Bonnies had an almost immediate answer.
A put back layup from Dayton redshirt freshman center Steve McElvene tied the game at 72 with 53 seconds left. But Adams hit his biggest shot of the day on the Bonnies next possession, drilling a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left after coming off a ball screen. Dayton came up empty on its next offensive possession, and Adams solidified the result—and put a stamp on a tremendous individual performance, with four made free throws down the stretch.
“[On] the last play, to have a guy come off of a ball screen and shoot an uncontested 3, it’s unacceptable,” Miller said.
Saturday’s win improved St. Bonaventure’s record to 18-7 overall and 10-4 in league play, and SBU sits alone in fourth place just one game back of Dayton and 1.5 games ahead of fifth-place George Washington. The top four teams at the end of the regular season get a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 Championship tournament.
“We’ve just got to respond,” Cooke said. “It’s conference time, and everybody’s trying to win games—from the bottom to the top.”
Dayton will have its chance to respond Tuesday night when it travels to St. Louis to face the SLU Billikens. SLU is 10-16 overall and 5-9 in conference play. Dayton beat St. Louis 73-37 at UD Arena on Jan. 27.
According to Miller, all indications are that Pollard will remain out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
“Kendall is not coming back any time soon from what I gather, so right now we’re going to have to find a way to get better [without him],” Miller said.
One way Miller will try to achieve that is by making a change in the starting lineup.
“Steve [McElvene] will be back in the lineup, starting next game,” Miller said. “We’re trying to prevent him from fouling, but he’s too important. We have to get him going.”
The Flyers tip off against SLU at 8 p.m. Feb. 23 on CBS Sports Network. They will then return home Feb. 27 for their second matchup with Rhode Island at noon on ESPN2.
Near the end of his post-game press conference on Saturday, Miller made a statement that was perhaps aimed equally at the Flyer faithful and his team.
“At the end of the day, we’re 21-5, we’re 11-3 in the league and we won nine games in a row,” Miller said. “We’ve tripped up here this week. It’s not the end of the world. We have four games left, [and] we’ve got to find a way to win the next one.”
Photo: Sophomore guard Darrell Davis focuses on the rim as two St. Bonaventure defenders close in during the Bonnies’ 79-72 win over Dayton Saturday afternoon. The loss dropped the Flyers to 21-5 overall and 11-3 in Atlantic 10 conference play, where they now sit in third place. Chris Santucci/Multimedia Editor