By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
The Chattanooga Mocs snapped the Dayton men’s basketball team’s 26-game home winning streak Saturday night, 61-59.
After winning their first two games following the AdvoCare Invitational, 86-71 over North Florida on Dec. 5 and 72-67 on the road against 21st-ranked Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, Dec. 9, the Dayton men’s basketball team had a chance to show up in the national top 25 rankings for the first time this season.
The team had been in the receiving votes category since the preseason and had moved up a couple spots on that list in the first few weeks of the season.
All the Flyers had to do was beat Chattanooga at UD Arena Saturday night, and they would sit at 8-1 on the year with three wins over big-conference opponents Alabama, Iowa and Vanderbilt.
Dayton was down by as many as 16 points with 3:02 left in the first half at Vanderbilt before sophomore guard Darrell Davis helped spur a run that halved the deficit and put the Flyers down 40-32 at halftime. Davis had an individual 8-2 run against the Commodores, and junior point guard Scoochie Smith hit two free throws with three seconds left in the half to cut the lead to eight.
The Flyers continued the momentum from the end of the first half into the second, especially defensively.
Vanderbilt made six field goals the entire second half, shooting 24 percent. That was a stark contrast to the 57.7 percent they shot in the first half.
Junior forward Kendall Pollard had his best game of the season, leading the Flyers with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting. That included a desperation 3-pointer he made at the end of the shot clock with 43 seconds left to give Dayton a seven-point lead.
Redshirt freshman center Steve McElvene flirted with another double-double, falling one rebound short with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Dayton head coach Archie Miller barely had any time to celebrate the Vanderbilt win before he cautioned his team and the fan base about the risks of letting the talk affect future results.
“It means absolutely zero,” Miller told the media in Nashville after the game about the top 25. “We’re better off with a chip on our shoulder. We’re better off being the underdogs. If they put us in the top 25, I’ll take it, but all that does is it gives our fans a chance to tell our guys how good they are, and they’re not very good right now.”
In other news, Miller announced that suspended senior Dyshawn Pierre will return to the team for the second semester. However, it is unclear at this time when he will begin playing, or if he will play at all this year.
There is a possibility of Pierre not playing this year, which would leave him with a full year of eligibility that he could use next season.
Miller proved to be prophetic about the potential negative aspects of being discussed in the top 25, as Dayton struggled all night against Chattanooga.
The Flyers faced a 29-24 halftime deficit after a slow first half, in which neither team shot better than 43 percent from the floor. Chattanooga out-rebounded Dayton 20-12 (the final margin ended up being 33-30 Chattanooga) in the half despite playing without their best player, senior guard Casey Jones, sidelined due to injury. Jones leads the Mocs in scoring (12.6 points per game) and rebounding (6.5 rebounds per game).
Junior guard Greg Pryor stepped up in Jones’ absence, leading Chattanooga with 15 points and four assists. He also hit two free throws with five seconds left in a tie game to give the Mocs the 61-59 lead, which they held onto for the win.
Dayton led by as many as six early in the second half, but Chattanooga always found a way to stay in it.
A particularly deflating example of that came just over halfway through the period. The Flyers took a 46-40 lead on a Smith 3-pointer with 9:30 to play.
Senior guard Eric Robertson countered with a three of his own on the Mocs’ next possession. Then, Chattanooga pressured UD in the backcourt and forced a Darrell Davis turnover, as he threw a pass right to Pryor, who took a few dribbles and sank a three to tie the game at 46.
Those two threes came 15 seconds apart, and Dayton never led by more than three points after that.
“Give Chattanooga credit,” Miller said after the game. “I thought they earned the win, and played without their best player. [That] goes to show you how good they are.”
“We just finished up a stretch with probably about six or seven games in a row with teams that aspire to do what we do, which is play in March,” Miller said. “Our schedule didn’t allow us to play poor, and we played poor tonight.”
Pollard led UD with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. However, his free throw troubles resurfaced, as he missed as many as he made, going 8-for-16 from the line. Dayton shot 14-for-26 as a team from the free throw line.
“I told the team that I apologize for missing so many down the stretch,” Pollard said.
“Kendall works very hard every day on his free throw: He shoots a good percentage in practice,” Miller said. “He’s improved. It’s just tough to translate it during the game.”
Despite the misses, Miller did like the opportunities Pollard earned.
“If you shoot 16 free throws in a game, you’re doing something right,” Miller said. “He’s just got to figure a way out to make a couple more.”
“I knew on Wednesday night our team wasn’t as good as everyone said, and it’s not as bad as everyone thinks it is right now,” Miller said. “[It’s] somewhere in the middle. It’s our job to get better.”
The Flyers will have six days off before returning to UD Arena 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19 against Furman.
Photo of junior guard Kyle Davis by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.