Dayton Flyers coach Archie Miller put the blame on himself Saturday after a 67-64 loss to Northwestern at the United Center in Chicago.
“Clearly, we weren’t ready to go out of the gate,” Miller said, “and that sort of starts with me. We’ll get back to the drawing board.”
Dayton (7-3) had not trailed by more than two points in the five-game winning streak that preceded this loss. It reverted to the form it showed earlier this season in losses to Saint Mary’s and Nebraska, falling behind by double digits, fighting like crazy to rally and then coming up short at the end.
GAME STORY: Flyers follow familiar pattern in defeat
The Flyers have lost to the three highest-ranked teams on their schedule so far — from an RPI standpoint — by a total of nine points. The Wildcats (9-2) took control of the game in the first four minutes by claiming an 11-0 lead. Dayton missed its first eight shots.
“I give great credit to Northwestern,” Miller said. “Great start to the game for those guys. They clearly knocked us on our heels very early. On both ends of the floor, they did a tremendous job of making the game difficult on us. Coming into the game, I kind of felt they had the ability to really spread us out. Defensively, they’re very tough around the rim, and that’s what it became.”
Dayton stopped Northwestern’s initial run with a 3-point play by Kendall Pollard at the 15:36 mark and then two free throws by Scoochie Smith. The Flyers trailed 13-8 after a 3-pointer by Sam Miller, who hit another 3-pointer at the 10:59 mark to cut the deficit to 21-12.
Things didn’t look great for UD at that point, but nothing foreshadowed what happened next. Northwestern ran off 15 straight points. Dayton missed 12 straight field goals and turned the ball over three times in a nine-minute span.
“I saw the frustration sort of set in,” Miller said. “On some level, our offense carried over to the defense or defense carried over to the offense, and that can’t happen. Credit to our team out of halftime. It’s not easy to go through one of those halves, but we had a different mentality and a much different stick-to-it mentality, a better togetherness, and we were able to fight and we were able to make some sort of game out of it. The percentages and the score are almost flip-flopped.”
Northwestern won the first half 40-17. Dayton won the second half 47-27. Northwestern got conservative in the second half, running the shot clock down before taking a shot. The Flyers also turned up the pressure on defense and forced a couple late turnovers.
Yet the Wildcats did enough in the first half, shooting 51.9 percent and holding Dayton to 14.3 percent shooting, to afford a letdown in the second.
“Our guys were really good, locking into what we wanted to try to do against them,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I’m just kind of starting my fourth year now. It’s probably the best half of basketball that we’ve played on both ends in my time coaching at Northwestern.”