By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
The Dayton men’s basketball team rode a wave of second-half energy to a 69-66 victory over the William & Mary Tribe Saturday afternoon at UD Arena.
Frustrated over a nine-point halftime deficit, the Flyers came out fired up in the second half and extended their home court win streak to 25 games—dating back to January of 2014.
Redshirt junior guard Charles Cooke led the Flyers with 18 points to go along with six rebounds in 36 minutes of action.
“I couldn’t be more proud [of our players],” head coach Archie Miller said in a postgame press conference. “We needed a tremendous amount of respect for that team, and I think anyone that was in the arena today saw what we were talking about in terms of how well schooled, how veteran-oriented and how tough they were to play against.”
After Tuesday’s win over Alabama, Miller called William & Mary a “scary” team—one that would not go away quietly at UD Arena. The Tribe had knocked off North Carolina State on the road to begin the season and entered Saturday’s matchup a perfect 3-0.
Though a member of the lesser-known Colonial Athletic Association, William & Mary will be a tough opponent for any team this year. One of just five Division I schools to have never received an NCAA tournament bid, the Tribe is playing with a sense of urgency this year given their veteran leadership.
The Flyers were put to the test right away as William & Mary played tight defense and forced many ill-advised shots in the first half.
Dayton shot 9-for-25 in the first and made it to the free throw line twice, putting up 21 points in the first 20 minutes.
“We were very stagnant on offense,” Miller said of his team’s first half play. “We’re just not real clean on offense right now: We had 10 turnovers in the first half. We have to get more fluid.”
On the other end of the floor, the Tribe benefited from aggressive shots.
Down 8-5 six minutes into the game, guard Greg Malinowski hit two 3-pointers within 25 seconds of each other for William & Mary, jumpstarting an ambitious offense. Malinowski’s threes were the start of a 19-6 run for the Tribe, which led for more than 13 minutes of the first half.
William & Mary also made five of six free throws in the first half to help build a lead that stood at 11 points with under five minutes to play in the first.
By halftime, the Flyers had cut the lead to nine—30-21—but the crowd in UD Arena was on edge.
The Flyers made it clear early in the second half that it would be a different 20 minutes of basketball.
Charles Cooke sunk a three-pointer on the half’s initial possession. A minute later, junior forward Kendall Pollard added a three of his own.
By the 13-minute mark, UD had cut the deficit to two, 42-40.
By this time, the entire arena was alive, and the Red Scare’s boisterous, incessant rally cries gave the Flyers a rhythm to play to.
With 10:30 left in the half, redshirt freshman center Steve McElvene made a layup to tie the game at 47, and the collective breath of the Flyer faithful was released.
Dayton had built its lead to 58-49 at the end of a 13-2 run for the Flyers. But the William & Mary shooters remained unfazed.
With a little over two minutes to play, senior guard Daniel Dixon hit a 3-pointer for the Tribe, which momentarily gained a 60-58 lead. Dixon’s shot was part of a 24-point day for him. He drained six of 10 3-point attempts.
With just over a minute remaining, Cooke hit two free throws to tie the game at 62. Seconds later, junior guard Kyle Davis forced a Tribe turnover and converted it in transition to give Dayton a two-point advantage. The Flyers didn’t look back, and several free throws later, had themselves a thrilling 69-66 victory.
“I think the whole team got us going, [Scoochie Smith] playing hard on defense, Ryan Mikesell making shots,” Davis said in a postgame interview. “Just the whole team…even the bench and the crowd got us going.”
In the second half, the crowd was a predominant factor. While shooting towards the Red Scare, bearing blazoned cardboard character cutouts and obnoxious distractions, William & Mary missed eight free throws.
Those eight free throws were more than the game’s difference.
“What an environment we played in here today,” Miller said. “A couple of those times in the second half it felt like late season…in terms of what our crowd was able to give us on a Saturday against William & Mary. There are very few places that [are able] to do that.”
What shouldn’t be lost in this win, though, is that William & Mary was almost the team that ended UD’s home win streak. Dayton, the school that is no stranger to upsets, had to defend themselves from being on the receiving end of one.
“I think this was a really good test,” Cooke said in a postgame interview. “We had some ups and downs, but we knew that was going to happen. Coach told us before the game to stick with it, it’s going to happen,” referring to the Tribe’s scoring attack.
William & Mary finished the game having made 10 of 22 3-point shots and 42 percent from the floor overall.
“A 3-pointer feels like a million 3-pointers when they make one because they can make them in bulk and they shoot them from deep,” Miller said. “Daniel Dixon, in watching him today, he’s one of the best players we’ll play against all season.”
The Flyers next head to Orlando, Florida, for the AdvoCare Invitational. UD takes on the Iowa Hawkeyes 9 p.m. Thanksgiving on ESPN 2.
Photo by Staff Photographer Zoey Xia.