Whether it’s superstition or not wanting to mess with their new-found mojo or — more likely — that they don’t want to lose focus on the task at hand, none of the Dayton Flyers really wanted to broach the subject after Saturday’s important 86-79 victory over Massachusetts at UD Arena.
We’re talking about the NCAA tournament, whose invitation list goes out in two weeks.
Ever-blathering bracketologists and ardent fans can’t talk enough about it. And every college team of a certain merit is now doing everything in its power to maneuver itself into the 68-team field.
But the Flyers, for the most part, shied away from going public with any private thoughts.
“We re not worried about the postseason besides the Atlantic 10 tournament and our last regular-season games,” said senior guard Vee Sanford.” If we focus on what we’re supposed to, the rest will come.”
Coach Archie Miller was of a similar mind: “We’ve got two (regular season) games left and we’ve got to take care of business and not listen to the noise out there.”
And yet when pressed, Miller admitted Saturday’s victory over a 22-6 UMass team that almost certainly will be in the NCAA tournament meant one important thing for his own team, which is now 20-9:
He was talking about the Flyers’ own NCAA tournament chances.
It’s been five years since UD’s name has been called on Selection Sunday.
None of the current home-grown Flyers — guys who began their college careers here — has played in the NCAA tournament. Not even Matt Kavanaugh, who goes back to the days of Marcus Johnson, Rob Lowery, London Warren and Kurt Huelsman, teammates who are long gone.
Only UD’s two transfers, Sanford and Jordan Sibert, have NCAA tournament experience and for each that came at his previous school.
And neither of their forays was especially memorable .
Georgetown made the NCAA tournament both seasons Sanford played for the Hoyas: “It wasn’t a good experience. We got beat (in the first round each year) by VCU and Ohio.”
Ohio State went to the NCAA tournament both seasons Sibert was a Buckeye, including in 2011 when OSU made it to the Final Four before losing the semifinal to Kansas, 64-62.
“I played a little bit in the early games that year — Loyola and Gonzaga, but as the games got harder my minutes decreased,” he said.
He does remember one thing from tournament time that he can draw on now in his first season with the Flyers:
“Toughness is the key this time of year — just being able to stay together. A lot of teams get tired because of how long the season is. We’ve been at this since summer time so getting back around at this point is hard.”
But after losing four straight games at the end of January, the Flyers mustered a new toughness through February and, as Miller was happy to point out after Saturday’s victory: “This is 7 of 8 for us and that’s with a tough (loss) at St. Joe’s. And I’m not sure very many people are going to beat them right now the way they’re playing.”
The Flyers bounced back from that loss last Tuesday with five players in double figures against UMass:
Sibert led the way with 23 points, tying his best career effort. Dyshawn Pierre added 16 points and six rebounds. Sanford had 15 and six.
Devin Oliver had an entire stat line that Miller marveled about — 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and one turnover in 32 minutes — and sophomore point guard Khari Price had what Miller said was the “best game” of his college career not only for his 10 points and five assists, but for the way he stymied UMass point guard Chaz Williams, who made five of 17 shots.
Sibert, though, had some of the Flyers’ most memorable plays:
He hit four big 3-pointers. He picked up a loose ball that rolled from a tangle of bodies on the floor and slammed home a one-handed dunk midway through the second half. And he was 5-for-5 from the line and that included two foul shots in the final two minutes when three of his teammates struggled with their attempts.
“It just depends who’s on the line then,” Miller said. “Sometimes there’s ice water in the veins and sometimes there’s no water. You just want the right guy there at the end.”
Sibert said he has no trick for shooting free throws in pressure situations: “I just shoot it — free throws, threes, any type shot. I just shoot it.”
Against Saint Joseph’s that formula didn’t quite work — he went 1-for-8 from the field — but for every game like that he’s had several big outings this season. He leads the Flyers in scoring (12.6 ppg.) and is shooting far better from the floor at UD (44.9 percent) than he ever did at OSU (30.4 and 29.0.) His 3-point and free-throw accuracies have shown a similar dramatic rise here.
“Jordan is playing his first year of college basketball, it doesn’t matter what anyone says,” Miller said. “He had a really minimal experience before he came here. This is his first real season and he’s continuing to grow. Here it is March 1 and he just had one of his best games.”
As an OSU freshman in the 2010-11 season, Sibert averaged just over eight minutes and two points. The next season it was 11.4 minutes and three points. He sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
He left OSU for one reason, he said: “I wanted to play and I wasn’t getting the chance there.”
He said, “A lot of people still come and tell me news about Ohio State. I’ve got a few friends there still, but I don’ really keep up on all that that much. It’s about my life now and my life is here in Dayton.”
He’s said he came to UD not only to play, but because he saw a place where he might be able to help “change the culture.”
Again, a reference to the NCAA tournament.
And now with two games left in the regular season, that may be possible.
As Archie Miller said:
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