Archie Miller on A-10 opener: ‘It should be very hard to play us at home’

Dayton fans cheer during a game against East Tennessee State on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
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Dayton fans cheer during a game against East Tennessee State on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Preseason favorite Flyers host La Salle Friday night

Archie Miller considers his Dayton Flyers fortunate to open the Atlantic 10 slate at home, especially with La Salle up first.

Defending A-10 champion Dayton (9-3), which hosts La Salle (6-4) at 6 p.m. Friday, has experienced its lumps on the road against the Explorers but has won 12 straight at home against them with the last loss at UD Arena coming in 1999. The teams split last season, each winning at home.

“They are difficult for us to play — they have (been) since we entered the league,” Miller said. “They have a unique system, a lot of switching. They like to play small at times and they put you in a lot of lineup predicaments. They can play some zone. They’ve done a lot of things to us over the course of time to make things hard, and anywhere on the road is difficult.

“Playing at UD Arena, in some cases for us is a luxury and we have to make sure it’s not something we take for granted. It should be very hard to play us at home, not because of our crowd but because of our great effort. We’re going to try to get off to a good start … by playing with great pride in what we’re doing and having the ability to take it game by game.”

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Dayton sold out last year’s game against La Salle and had limited tickets available for this matchup as of Thursday afternoon.

Miller said there is added emphasis to the importance of this game because of the need to get off to a good start in league play.

“The first one is the most important one,” Miller said. “You’re either 1-0 or 0-1, so whether you’re at home or you’re on the road, I think it’s to everyone’s benefit to get off to the best start you can. Winning a league game is going to be hard for us. Every game we play is going to be very difficult, and I think that’s what’s kind of getting in our minds and bodies right now. There’s no gimmes. Being able to play La Salle, they will have our attention. It will be a good environment on Friday night, so to me, it will be one of the better hyped-up games that we play.”

The Flyers opened A-10 play the last two years with wins over Duquesne and went on to claim a share of the regular-season title last season and a runner-up finish in 2014-15. They are 3-2 in conference openers under Miller with one of those losses coming in 2012-13 when Dayton finished 17-14 and ended the season in the first round of the conference tournament.

This class of seniors is 2-1 in A-10 openers. The Flyers were picked as preseason favorites to win the league after sharing the title with St. Bonaventure last year.

“It’s always important for us, to show all the teams in the league that we’re here and we’re about business and not worried about any team in our conference,” senior Kyle Davis said.

Dayton enters league play on a roll after winning seven of its last eight and going 2-1 during a tough stretch of three games in seven days before Christmas break. The players got three days off to spend the holiday at home with family and returned to practice Tuesday to begin preparations for La Salle, which has the second-best offense in the league with 84.2 points per game despite a schedule that included losses to No. 1 Villanova, Georgetown and Temple.

Sophomore Ryan Mikesell said the Flyers’ non-conference schedule prepared them for a challenging 18-game league slate and they are ready to show they’ve learned from the losses, all three of which came by four points or less after trailing by seven points or more at halftime of each game.

“I would just say playing a full game,” Mikesell said when asked what they learned. “All three of our losses I believe we’ve gotten down double digits in the first half, and we just weren’t ready to play. We just need to come out ready to play and playing the full 40 minutes and giving an all-out effort until the last buzzer.”

Miller was pleased with how his players have worked through adversity to this point but looks for more improvement as the Flyers head into the meat of the schedule.

“There are certain things we’re doing well, certain things we’re not. I think the different styles in the Atlantic 10 are going to challenge us to play a couple different types of ways,” Miller said. “We’ve got to see if we can continue to shoot the ball well. I think that’s been the one consistent theme, that when we shoot it well, we’re tough to deal with. Defensively, we’re going to have to keep being creative with our lineups and how we’re playing inside and doing some things, but I like our guys and I like the way we’ve approached things and I think we still have a lot of room to grow.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

La Salle at Dayton, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network, AM 1290, News 95.7 WHIO