Archdeacon: A ‘surreal’ night for Dayton’s Kobe Elvis

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

It was Senior Night and Kobe Elvis got his best advice from the two people who accompanied him onto the court before he and his Dayton Flyers teammates took on their rugged VCU rivals in the regular season finale in front of an amped-up, sold-out crowd Friday night at UD Arena.

“It was amazing,” said Joy Elvis, Kobe’s mom, who had come to Canada from her native Guyana 32 years ago, fell in love with basketball and named her son after hoops legend Kobe Bryant.

This was just her second game at UD Arena this season and her first time at midcourt. She handled the moment perfectly — part mom, part Knute Rockne with his “win one for the Gipper” sentiment, only with a lilting accent.

“I gave him a nice kiss,” she said. “Then I told him, ‘Give it your all tonight. Give it your best shot!’”

Curwin Elvis, Kobe’s 28-year-old brother, was on the court, too, but his best advice came later in the game, as he and his mom sat up in Section 110, next to the band, where they were caught up in the swirl of music, energy…and, for much of the first half, an arena full of angst.

The Flyers trailed by 17 points — 26-9 with 10:08 left in the first half — and VCU looked well on its way to winning its fourth straight game at UD Arena and notching its 12th victory in the last 16 matchups between the two teams.

Elvis started slowly, going 0-for-3 in the first half, and turning the ball over twice.

When he’s had other off-nights shooting the ball — going 0-for-6 at VCU a month ago, 0-for-5 at Northwestern early in the season, 2-for-11 at George Mason three weeks ago — the Flyers have lost.

Friday night, as he was on the court sometime during his drought, he happened to look up toward Section 110 and make eye contact with his brother, who was standing up with his arms stretched out, palms up, as if to say: “What the hell? What are you waiting on? Now’s the time!”

Mom had told Elvis to play his best and soon that’s just what he started to do.

He scored his first basket with 10:29 left in the second half as UD was clawing its way back into a game that eventually would go down as one of the all-time classics in UD Arena history.

As Flyers head coach Anthony Grant would later describe his team’s effort: “That’s about the grittiest performance I’ve seen in my whatever, 30-plus years of coaching.”

UD briefly took the lead on a three pointer by Nate Santos with 5:57 left and after that it was back and forth until the game was knotted, 70-70, at the end of the regulation.

Then in the final minutes of overtime Elvis — as Mom had urged — gave it his best shot.

And shot after shot after shot went in.

He drove the lane and leaned back from a Rams’ defender to sink a short jumper with 2:29 left and lift UD into a 75-74 lead.

VCU was back on top 80-77 when Elvis launched a net-snapping three-pointer that tied the game at 80 with 1:09 remaining and filled the Arena with roaring euphoria.

Just 26 seconds later — on a fast break off a Rams’ turnover — he got a pass from Enoch Cheeks and, without a moment’s hesitation, drained another three from in front of the UD bench that nudged the Flyers ahead 83-80.

Finally, 20 seconds later he made two free throws to give UD a five-point advantage that eventually held up for a thrilling 91-86 victory.

In one of the most memorable individual overtime performances in UD hoops history, Elvis scored 10 points in just over two minutes.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

A private moment

Often targeted by the always-anonymous social media bullies who blame and bash him for Flyers failures, Elvis was in tears in the dressing room after the game and again when he and Koby Brea — another of the game’s heroes with four three-pointers and 18 points — met with the media, as a group of fans in the lounge adjoining the press room, watched and listened and then cheered when it was over.

When he left the press room, Elvis found head coach Anthony Grant waiting for him in the hallway.

“I appreciate you,” Grant said quietly as he gave his junior guard a firm hug. “I love you.”

Later, as he made his way back down to the court to join his mom and brother and few Flyers who likely had just played their last game at UD Arena — including DaRon Holmes II, who finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds and will be NBA bound; Zimi Nwokeji, who likely will enter the transfer portal for his final year of eligibility; and walk-on C.J, Napier, who is working on his masters and may be a grad assistant here next season — Elvis took a private moment to pull back the curtain on the thoughts he had tempered in the formal press setting:

“The tears came when I was upstairs (in the Donoher Center dressing room) with my brothers. They are the guys who deserve them after all we’ve been through.

“And down here (in the press room), the fans deserved to see me and Koby Brea be real and authentic like that. This night meant a lot to all of us.

“For me, personally, the overtime out there was surreal. It’s something every basketball player dreams about. You live for those big moments as a player. I’m glad my teammates trusted me at the end.

“It means a lot that we could reward our fans and make history tonight.”

The victory made UD a perfect 15-0 at home this season: a feat accomplished only three other times in the 54-year history of UD Arena and just once during the 19 years the Fieldhouse was the home of Dayton basketball.

The No. 25 Flyers are now 24-6 and have regained momentum going into their first Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinal game Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brookyln. And once the league tournament ends, they’ll land a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.

‘I won’t waver’

Grant feels a special connection to this team, which has been through many hardships of its own the past three years, and now has helped lift him and his family through their toughest time.

After losing his 20-year-old daughter some five months before last season began and then trying to cope while center stage night after night of the basketball season, Grant needed some new purpose to channel his grief and some respite, too.

With the help of his talented, close-knit team — and Jay’s Light, the mental health and suicide prevention initiative he and his wife Chris started — Grant seems reinvigorated and strengthened this season and after Friday night’s game, he openly embraced the joy and appreciation that came with the victory.

In the dressing room he told his team he was “in awe” of them for the character and perseverance they’ve shown this year after losing All-A-10 point guard Malachi Smith with a year-ending injury seven minutes into the season opener and then losing his replacement, transfer Javon Benett, due to a thumb injury in last Friday’s loss at Loyola.

And yet — with a reconfigured line-up and a very short bench — the Flyers hit the century mark in a blowout victory in St. Louis last Tuesday and then outbattled VCU in a classic Friday night.

The two teams combined for 30 three pointers (18 by VCU.) The Flyers starters all played over 40 minutes, and each scored in double figures.

Rather than tire, they scored a whopping 21 points in the five-minute overtime.

Elvis accounted for nearly half of that and Grant singled him out later:

“He’s a guy who’s been through some battles, as far as coming from Canada and his road to get here (which included a 5-win freshman season at DePaul before transferring) and then staying the course here through injuries and a little hard coaching at times.

“I’m just so proud of him.

“It was senior night. It’s emotional — his mom and brother were in town — and he came up big tonight.”

A week earlier social media trolls and some naysayers on the fan website were roasting him after he committed seven turnovers and guy he was guarding — Braden Norris — hit two key three pointers down the stretch to lift Loyola to victory.

Suddenly forgotten were efforts like his 27-point, one-man show in a trouncing of the Cincinnati Bearcats earlier this year and the UD-record 37 straight free throws he set in mid-January.

“For the people who get down on me for making turnovers or missing a shot, that’s part of basketball,” he said quietly. “People are going to make mistakes. But I’m confident in my capabilities and my teammates believe in me. So, I won’t waver.

“I don’t get too low when everybody’s on me and I don’t get too high on a night like this either.”

Then he smiled:

“But I bet those folks who got down on me love me tonight.”

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