By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
Scoochie Smith played with the same vigor he always does, leaving everything out on the court one last time.
The large contingent of Flyer fans, who had trekked to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, sang his name in unison for a final farewell.
“Scooooooooooch,” dampened the cheers of Wichita State’s smaller, but more jubilant, fanbase.
It was a thankful chorus for the senior guard, who dropped 25 points on the Shockers and was mainly responsible for keeping Dayton in the game as long as it was. But it was also a melancholic harmony to the senior swan song and the finale to an arduous season for Dayton basketball.
They lost to a physical Wichita State team that was considered vastly under-seeded by analysts after winning their final 15 games entering March Madness. The Shockers went on to play two-seed Kentucky, and lost by just three points in the final seconds.
There are no excuses for the Flyers, though. A loss is a loss, and this one was sour.
The winningest senior class in Dayton basketball history dropped its final three games of the season, never winning after their captivating victory over VCU on March 1. It was hardly the ending the senior class expected after they won five tournament games over their first two seasons in Dayton.
With the exception of the constant catalyst Scoochie Smith, the UD’s seniors were virtually nullified by Wichita State’s defense Friday night.
The Shockers, though seeded at 10 in the South region, are ranked No. 19 in the country. They are the second-straight 10-seed to knock off Dayton in the first round after Syracuse took care of the Flyers in 2016’s tournament 70-51.
This year’s 64-58 loss was more bearable from an on-court standpoint. Although UD was beat up in the paint, they found ways to keep pace with Wichita State.
Dayton took a 29-27 lead into the half, and was only behind by three points as the four-minute mark approached. In the end, though, the Shockers out-rebounded the Flyers 48-29, and converted on enough of their chances to sink UD.
Smith, the senior point guard, got UD’s offense rolling in the first half, shelling out 18 points on six-for-10 shooting from the floor at the break. He finished the game with 25 points, four steals and four assists.
But the rest of UD’s offense never came around.
Kendall Pollard was limited to seven minutes in the first half after he picked up a couple early fouls. He scored 13 points over 23 minutes in total, but was ineffective on the glass, grabbing just two rebounds over the course of the game.
Charles Cooke, UD’s leading scorer over the last two seasons, recorded just six points in 30 minutes. He showed signs of ignition in the second half when he recorded a crowd-stirring block and later drew contact in transition. But he finished the game shooting just one-for-10 from the floor.
Despite the lack of offense and ineffectiveness on the glass, the Flyers kept it close. Wichita State did not pull more than three points ahead until 5:40 remained in the second half.
Kyle Davis trimmed the deficit to three with a pair of free throws just over a minute later, but UD never closed the gap.
As time wound down, UD’s defense got aggressive. They secured six steals to Wichita’s zero, but several questionable foul calls went against the Flyers, who couldn’t catch a break when it mattered the most.
So with zeros on the clock, the Flyers reached their final destination–March sadness.
“I was really proud of our team,” head coach Archie Miller said in the postgame press conference. “I thought that was one of the hardest games we’ve played in a long, long time. And I think that was anyone’s game for a good portion.”
“We just had to step up and make shots,” Smith said after the game. “And a lot of people on our team, they couldn’t get their shots to fall, couldn’t get a flow. That’s just sometimes how the game goes.”
Wichita State certainly took pride in knocking off the Flyers, despite the fact that they are ranked higher nationally and were favored by Las Vegas’ odds.
“I want to praise Archie Miller and the Dayton Flyers and those four seniors for all they’ve done for that university, for that program and for college basketball the last four years,” Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall opened his press conference.
He ended his conference saying, “I think Dayton deserved a better draw in this tournament.”
The reality for Miller and the Flyers, though, is no more glamorous than a loss.
“I don’t think we’ve ever approached a seed in our lives,” he said. “I think we’ve always approached the team because we feel like we can beat them, felt like we could tonight. We just didn’t.”
Click here for a photo gallery from Dayton’s Friday night loss in Indianapolis.
Photos by Christian Cubacub/Multimedia Editor