Groundhog Day has passed. So has the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. Yet Dayton keeps winning.
The biggest dreamers among the Flyer Faithful hope this streak survives until Saint Patrick’s Day and beyond. The players themselves continue to do what every player in history has claimed to do — take it one basket at a time, one half at a time, one game at a time.
The Flyers improved to 5-0 in February with a 65-53 victory Wednesday at UD Arena over a disappointing La Salle team that has lost whatever magic got it to the Sweet 16 a year ago. It’s the first five-game winning streak in Archie Miller’s three seasons as coach, the first five-game winning streak in Atlantic 10 play since 2009 and the first five-game winning streak in February since 1990.
The Dayton student section chanted, “This is our house,” as the final seconds ticked away, something they wouldn’t have chanted when the Flyers were 1-5 in the A-10 at the end of January with three losses at home.
“You can’t figure out exactly what’s going on, what’s going on, and you’re trying to figure out how to get a win,” said guard Jordan Sibert, explaining the team’s feeling three weeks ago. “Then you get that first one, and it keeps the wins going. We’re keeping that same mentality, that same attitude. It’s a great feeling to have.”
Sibert scored 17 points for the Flyers, hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers. Matt Kavanaugh had 16 points. Devin Oliver had 14 points, 12 rebound and five assists.
Dayton (18-8 overall) moved above .500 in the A-10 at 6-5 for the first time this season. The Flyers remain in seventh place but pulled within a game of two teams it plays in the five remaining A-10 games: Richmond and Massachusetts (both 7-4). Dayton is only one game back in the loss column of fourth-place George Washington.
Most postseason prognosticators list the Flyers as one of the first four or eight teams out of the NCAA tournament at this moment — or if you’re a glass half full type of fan, one of the first teams in the NIT — but that’s a lot better than the position they were in after losing on a last-second shot to Saint Joseph’s on Jan. 29. That was Dayton’s fourth straight loss and fifth in six games.
Now the Flyers are two wins away from a perfect February, something the program hasn’t accomplished since it was 8-0 in 1971. Senior Devin Oliver was asked how the 5-0 mark this month sounds.
“It sounds lovely,” he said. “Having that four-game skid and to come back and start the month 5-0, it’s good. It’s great actually. We’ve just got to keep chipping away, come to practice every day with the right mind-set and keeping getting wins.”
The Flyers beat La Salle by taking care of the ball. They committed only 10 turnovers, allowing them to overcome 41.4 percent shooting, and have averaged 9.4 turnovers during this five-game winning streak. They averaged 15.2 turnovers in their five A-10 losses.
La Salle (12-13, 4-7) lost its fourth straight game by committing 17 turnovers and shooting 35 percent from the field.
The Flyers led 27-21 at halftime despite an epic cold spell in the first 11 minutes. They had two points in the first four minutes and four in the first eight minutes. At one point, their shooting percentage dipped below 10 percent.
Fortunately for Dayton, La Salle wasn’t much better. The Explorers led 17-7 at the 8:57 mark, and the Flyers had to feel it could have been worse.
That’s where the game turned for Dayton. It ran off 13 straight points in the next four minutes. Kavanaugh had six points in that stretch, and a 3-pointer by Sibert gave the Flyers their first lead of the game at the 6:07 mark.
“You think hopefully it’ll come back around,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “By playing the percentages, you know you’re not going to score two points in 40 minutes. Something will eventually go in. We missed some point-blank shots. It’s an awkward feeling at home when you do that. It’s been that way all year long. We don’t get off to fast starts. We’ve go to work our way into it.”
La Salle committed 13 turnovers in the first half, and six came during that 13-0 run. After La Salle finally scored to break the streak, Dayton ran off seven more points.
In the second half, the Explorers got as close as 40-38 with under 12 minutes to go. Then Dayton scored the next four points on jumpers by Oliver and Kavanaugh. A jumper by Oliver with 4:30 left gave Dayton a 56-49 lead, and that was really the final dagger for La Salle’s hopes.
This was Dayton’s first game since the previous Wednesday.
“We had a week off, and I thought we had some really good workouts, a lot of energy this past week,” Miller said. “It’s kind of been the theme of February. That’s pretty much been our approach every day. We were very fortunate to beat La Salle. We didn’t really play offensively as well as we needed to in certain stretches.”
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