By: Keith Raad – Sports Editor
The small ball seven won another staring contest with the month of March.
Facing elimination in the Atlantic 10 Conference Quarterfinals Friday, Kendall Pollard’s 26 points lifted Dayton over St. Bonaventure 75-71.
Pollard nabbed the career-high mark on 11-of-16 shooting from the floor, part of the team’s 38-30 advantage in the paint.
“He’s been an ironman for us,” head coach Archie Miller said. “He put us on his back … He was a warrior tonight.”
Dayton’s focus on the paint grew after their last tussle with the Bonnies. At UD Arena on Valentine’s Day, the Bonnies outscored Dayton 50-30 in the paint. St. Bonaventure 7-foot center Youssou Ndoye had 16 points in that game, but scored only four points Friday against Dayton forwards Pollard and Dyshawn Pierre, both of which are 6-foot-6.
The Flyers poked and picked pockets to steal away a third win over the Bonnies this season.
Redshirt senior Jordan Sibert and sophomore Scoochie Smith ripped away three steals each. Forcing a total of 17 turnovers and 10 steals, the Flyers scored 19 points off turnovers.
Sibert added 19 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer down 67-66, in the win. The Cincinnati native also hit late game free throws in two separate situations to ice the win for Dayton.
“[My confidence came from] looking at my teammates,” Sibert said. “They were just telling me just shoot the shot, telling me that we need them.”
Running the offense, Bronx-native Smith dished out six assists without committing a turnover.
“Scooch was great,” head coach Archie Miller said. “He played like a true point guard. His pace up and down the floor was terrific.”
Smith also added 11 points, including four perfect trips to the free-throw line. Dayton outshined a St. Bonnies team fresh off a nine point win over St. Joseph’s University Thursday. Against Dayton, Thursday’s success spilled over to Friday.
Bonnies forward Dion Wright hit his first 10 shots from the floor, including four 3-pointers. Wright’s 24 were part of a two-fold attack that included junior guard Marcus Posley’s 26 points. Despite the two-pronged attack and a halftime lead of 36-34, the Bonnies could not find help from any other scorers save senior Andell Cumberbatch’s eight points.
“Dion Wright, in particular, from three, that threw a monkey wrench into what we were doing,” Miller said. “He hadn’t done that coming in, and this is the first time that Marcus Posley had really gotten off on us all season…So we got to see the best of those two guys, and they were a very, very strong one-two punch.”
But Dayton’s speed slowed any monstrous Bonaventure runs outscoring the Bonnies 21-4 on the fast break. On several made baskets by St. Bonaventure, Dayton forced the issue by throwing cross-court passes, catching the brown-clad Bonnies off-guard.
Dayton, for the seventh time this season, bounced back from a loss. The Flyers dropped the regular season finale to La Salle last Saturday. Miller attributed the team’s resilient ability to not lose two games in a row to living in the moment.
“It’s the whole key to a great season,” he said. “A lot of coaches around will tell you that if you never lose two in a row you’re going to be in for a special season and I think that’s what we’re involved with.”
The small ball seven advances to the semifinals for the first time under Miller, who seemed to salivate for another opportunity to defeat the March Madness beast.
“It’s so hard to get a win,” Miller said. “There’s so much at stake for so many people, players and coaches, and I think this venue is terrific. Our guys were very excited to play here, and they will be very excited to play another one here. I mean, we’re in the semifinals, Saturday semifinal. I couldn’t ask for anything better right now.”
Dayton faces No. 3 seed Rhode Island 4 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network, campus channel 509-1.