Archdeacon: Smith keeps Flyers together, revs up UD Arena crowd

The Dayton Flyers always have a prayer when Malachi Smith is on the court.

Tuesday night he gave them two.

One was on his right arm.

The other came with his play.

The sophomore point guard has missed 14 games this season due to ankle injuries.

He was out the first three games of the season due to a right ankle injury suffered during an October practice.

Then in his fourth game back, he severely turned his left ankle on a drive to the basket in the final seconds of a loss to Brigham Young in the Battle4Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.

That left him on crutches and stuck on the bench for another 11 games.

“That was real tough,” he admitted Tuesday night. “I told everyone what a rough time it was for me”.

His mom, Sharika Rosado, knew that and thought he needed a little heavenly help to get through it. She not only gave him a bible verse — Romans 8:28 — to lean on, but she helped him come up with a way to remember it.

“In December I went to Cincinnati and got this,” Smith said as he ran his left hand across his right biceps, which now sports his newest tattoo. “It’s praying hands. And that verse. It took four hours.”

He recited it without looking:

“All things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to purpose.”

Tuesday night at UD Arena, he said he was in the starting lineup against Loyola, thanks to the ongoing help of team trainer Mike Mulcahey, as well.

He said he’d had some pregame treatments and he was wearing high, padded braces on both ankles. And as the game progressed, he gained confidence and began to feel like his old self.

Against Loyola — for the first time in the nine games he’s played in this season — he looked like he did in the best of times last season when he had a freshman campaign that ended up as one of the most memorable in Dayton basketball history.

Although the Ramblers came into Tuesday’s game with a 7-13 record, they were — as UD coach Anthony Grant said later — a team much better than its record. Loyola is talented and against Dayton it was especially physical.

While a couple of the UD players wilted in that muscle-and-bump style, Smith, the littlest Flyer at 6-feet, did not.

On two trussed ankles, he played over 36 minutes and was a big reason the Flyers finally prevailed in overtime, 85-81.

He scored a career-high 21 points and made several key offensive and defensive plays down the stretch as he — and inside enforcer Toumani Camara, who had a career-high 31 points — led the Flyers back from an eight-point deficit in the second half

Smith scored seven points in the final 5:36 of regulation play and that left the score knotted 72-72 at the buzzer.

In overtime, he scored four points, had a key steal and was part of the defensive effort that kept Loyola’s long-range ace, Branden Norris — one of the nation’s top three-point shooters — from even taking a shot.

“I thought he played a really, really heady game,” Grant said of Smith. “He did a great job of leading the team.”

Along with his own play, he got everyone else — teammates and fans — engaged.

As the Flyers huddled up before starting the five-minute extra period, they were still stunned by the last second, desperation three pointer that Loyola’s Phillip Alston had hoisted from in front of his bench and somehow banked in.

“I tried to tell ‘em in the time out: ‘We’re good. Keep your heads up. Keep playing,’” Smith said.

In the final minutes of regulation play — after he’d scored five straight points on driving layup and a three pointer to lift UD from a two-point deficit to a three-point lead — he turned to the sold-out crowd and gave them an exaggerated, two-handed waving motion upward. He was telling everyone to get the place rockin’.

On cue, the overhead speakers blared Endor’s “Pump It Up,” and the fans rose and some danced and many clapped and UD Arena was alive again.

“He knows exactly what to do on the floor,” Camara said. “He’s like a general. He just controls the flow really well.

“Having him back on the court brings confidence to everybody. He makes it easy for everybody, for sure. He just keeps us together. We had that whole year together last year.”

Smith came to Dayton from the Bronx last year wearing the mantle of “Scoochie Smith’s little brother.”

Scoochie had become something of a legend when he played at UD. A three-year team captain who scored 1,289 career points, he helped lead the team to four straight NCAA Tournaments and more wins over a four-year span than anytime in Flyers’ history.

But Malachi came into his own quickly last season, starting 29 of 33 games and averaging 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.

He made the Atlantic 10′s All-Rookie team and was a co-MVP of the Flyers. The only down side came when he missed the final two games of the season with another ankle injury.

Then came the injury in practice in October and when he finally was able to play his first game of the season — against Robert Morris on Nov. 19 — he said he rushed too much and wasn’t himself.

He lasted just four games and then hurt the other ankle, an injury that kept him sidelined from Nov. 25 to Jan. 17.

“Just sitting on the bench, watching my teammates, it was hard knowing I couldn’t help except by using my voice,” he said. “I knew there were things I could have done on the court to help us win.”

He’s been back five games now. Last Saturday against Davidson he made the first start of this return and he had 13 assists.

Tuesday night — along with his 21 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the floor that included three of four shots from beyond the arc — he added eight assists and had no turnovers.

In these five games back, he now has 32 assists and just four turnovers.

“Tonight, I guess, it was just my night,” Smith said after Tuesday’s game. “The team trusted me to make plays and AG trusted me to make plays and that’s what I tried to do.

“That trust…that’s what I needed. And now my confidence just keeps going up and up. I feel good.”

Well, that wasn’t quite true.

When pressed, he admitted after more than 36 minutes of physical play, his ankles were “sore.”

When we finished talking in a hallway leading to the Arena ramp and the team’s Donoher Center quarters just beyond, he said he was headed up to see Mulcahey again:

“I’m going to get in the cold tub for 15 or 20 minutes. That will help.”

With that, he walked off slowly.

Sometimes you go to the bible.

Sometimes you head straight to the training room.

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