University of Dayton senior forward Devin Oliver (5) cheers after the final seconds expire during a game against Syracuse University in the third round of the NCAA tournament, March 22, 2014, at the First Niagara Center, in Buffalo, New York. Dayton won 55-53 and advances to the Sweet 16 in Memphis.
By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
For the first time in 30 years, the University of Dayton men’s basketball advances to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton knocked off Syracuse University 55-53 in the tournament’s third round Saturday, March 22, at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
It is Dayton’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1984, when it advanced as far as the Elite 8.
“It was a great environment,” head coach Archie Miller said. “We’re fortunate, but just proud to be here, sitting here in the winning circle.”
UD needed every point it made down the stretch. The team also for a second straight game had to hold its breath on a final shot that could have sent them home.
Dayton (25-10) led 32-26 near the midway point of the second half when Syracuse made its first run of the game, 14-5 over a five minute span, to take its largest lead by three with 7:28 to go.
Dayton immediately responded with its own 7-0 run to set the stage for clutch shooting performances to propel them onto the next round.
The first came from redshirt junior guard Jordan Sibert, who hit a long 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down to give UD a six-point lead with 49 seconds remaining.
The next two came from sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre, who scored a team high 14 points, hitting both of his attempts from the free throw line with 23 seconds to go after Syracuse had narrowed the margin to one.
“Just trying to make sure I came through for our team,” Pierre said of his shots. “I’m happy I was able to knock them down.”
Syracuse freshman guard Tyler Ennis, a second-team All-American candidate, hit a layup to take the lead back down to one seconds later. Sibert then stepped out of bounds on the ensuing inbounds pass, giving the ball back.
Ennis got off a clean look for the lead with eight seconds left, but had it bounce off. Pierre made another free throw after getting the rebound and being fouled. Missing the second, Syracuse with no timeouts left made a final push, and Ennis again got off another look, this time from three for the win. The ball clanked off the back of the rim, made Syracuse finish 0-for-10 from three in the game, and sent Dayton players and fans in attendance into jubilation, while the Syracuse faithful stood in stunned silence.
Thursday against The Ohio State University, senior guard Aaron Craft just missed a running floater as time expired that would have won the game. Echoing his thoughts after that missed shot, Miller said he again thought he was about to watch his team get beat at the buzzer.
“It was definitely going in tonight,” he said. “That thing was on line, and he went for the win. The thing that went through my head was the game at Pitt, when I saw that highlight on SportsCenter 7,000 times.”
Dayton set itself up to get another victory because of its defensive performance in the first half. Syracuse (28-6) shot 30.4 percent from the field in the first half, and was forced by UD into six turnovers while dishing only two assists. The 18 points were the fewest in a half all season for Syracuse.
Syracuse trailed for the majority of the half, but Dayton wasn’t able to pull away because of a 7:30 field goal drought after the 10-minute mark, scoring only three points from the line during that time.
In the end, Dayton’s 55 were the fewest by a team to defeat Syracuse this season.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Oliver said. “It could have been a high school team. If we’re going to the Sweet 16, nothing’s better.”
Syracuse was anything but a high school team, ranked 14th in the Associated Press top 25 this week, a third-seed in the tournament, and went 25-0 to begin its season and was ranked No. 1 at one point.
Dayton advances to face the winner, Kansas University, and Stanford University Thursday, March 27, in Memphis, Tenn.
For now, an No. 11-seeded Dayton squad, already fresh off a win over Ohio State, ended Syracuse’s season, and made history in its own for the first time in 30 years.
“We really worked hard for this in the offseason,” Pierre said. “We’re happy we’re able to make it this far, and hopefully, we can keep pushing.”