By: Keith Raad – Sports Editor
Trudging through the mud for 40 minutes, the Flyers prevailed over No. 3 seed Rhode Island 56-52 to earn a matchup against Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship Sunday.
“That was a really hard-fought game and anybody who watched it probably didn’t enjoy as much as the players and the coaches in the game because it wasn’t the prettiest of things,” head coach Archie Miller said. “Every basket was hard-earned.”
The University of Dayton and VCU combined committed 33 turnovers and shot close to just 40 percent, but the final four minutes of the game catalyzed Dayton’s win.
Senior guard Jordan Sibert was the catalyst. Sibert popped in five points in those final four minutes to secure Dayton’s second win in its second day of playing.
In prime “true team” form, the “small ball seven’s” intensity on defense to force 11 steals and 21 turnovers enabled the marble to slide Dayton’s way.
“If you look at the games, we have been successful when they are dogfights or they are really good teams. Part of it is you just look at the steal column,” Miller said. “Last night was 10 steals. Tonight was 11 steals. Some of our biggest wins, our activity off the ball, deflecting balls, two-on-ones, three-on-twos; that’s how we have to play being at our size. What probably saved us as much as anything was the points off the turnovers.”
On a late game fast break by Rhode Island, sophomore guard Scoochie Smith poked the ball away and hit Sibert in stride for the reverse layup.
“I knew they had a little fast break advantage, so just tried my best to get a stop,” Smith said. “I think that would have given them a lot of momentum.”
Tied 24-24 at halftime, the Flyers only lift in the first 20 minutes came from junior Bobby Wehrli’s two 3-pointers. Whether they looked pretty or not, the former walk-on’s shots fell.
“I know the first one banked in, but he was open,” Miller said. “He took it. That’s what you like to see.”
After not scoring in the previous battle against Rhode Island 11 days ago, Miller gave Werhli a polite nudge beforehand.
“I told him in the elevator…these guys, we are not going 160 minutes with five guys,” Miller said. “You have to be ready to go when you get in there, and I thought he did right when we asked him.”
With the win, Dayton punches its ticket to the finals for the first time since 2011 – and the first time under Miller.
The Flyers match up with No. 5 seed VCU, which defeated Fordham Thursday, Richmond Friday and No. 1 seed Davidson by 20 points Saturday.
With one tough victory on the road two weeks ago, Miller’s players know VCU’s mantra of “havoc” and how to beat it.
“I think any time you play VCU, first thing is take care of the ball…and that sort of can at least help you a little bit in defending the easy looks,” Miller said. “You’ve got to be able to protect the paint, and, if they are going to make threes, you just want to make sure that they are the ones that you challenge.”
Dayton fights for its second A-10 tournament title at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, at 1 p.m. Sunday on CBS.