As no-wilt performances went at the end of what was an entertaining, emotionally-draining game Sunday, the Dayton Flyers were 1-for- 3.
Southern Cal had come to town – a West Coast team flying across country in what was a rare trip by a BCS school to UD Arena – and the red-clad locals turned out in volume, both number-wise and decibel level.
“This environment was great,” said Pe’Shon Howard, who would end up the hero of the day. “As soon as we came back on the court for the last part of warm-ups just before the game we were all like, ‘Man, it is loud out here! These fans are into it.’”
And the place was really amped with 29.5 seconds left in the first overtime. There was a time out – the score was tied 76-76 – and when play resumed UD would have the ball and just one thought:
Take the last shot of the game. Leave no time on clock.
So, with that in mind, let’s go through those three no-wilt opportunities:
• “We had 29 seconds left and there was a .5 (second) differential with the shot clock – so when we came out of that time out there was a very, very direct message to our team,” said UD coach Archie Miller. “We take the last shot. And they don’t get an opportunity to come back down (the court). But we had a breakdown.”
After the Flyers briefly worked the ball around, it ended up in the hands of senior forward Devin Oliver who was on the wing. He drove to the basket and to avoid the USC defender, went up and under, but his reverse lay-up attempt missed.
Worse, there were 4.7 seconds left and USC got the rebound and immediately called time out.
“I feel like I should have laid it up with my right hand,” a dejected Oliver said afterward. “I tried reversing it. I should have just jumped into their guy and got contact. I shouldn’t have given them the last shot. It’s on me.”
• During that next time out, Miller said he stressed that his team – now on defense – force whomever got the ball for USC to stay in the middle of the floor and take as many dribbles as possible. Instead Howard got the inbounds pass and was able to beeline down the right side of the court with Vee Sanford trying to defend him.
“ I caught it and looked at the clock and thought, ‘OK, coach told us if you got four seconds, you go four dribbles,’” Howard said. “I wasn’t counting them, but I tried to get as close to the three-point line as I could and when two guys came at me out of nowhere, I let it fly.”
Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre was further down the court, behind Sanford, and saw Howard release the desperation shot.
“I was praying the ball wouldn’t go in,” he said.
Across the court, Oliver watched the flight, as well: “I saw him shoot it and I didn’t think for a second it was going in.”
But D.J. Haley, USC’s back-up 7-foot center, thought otherwise: “When it came off his fingertips – the way it was spinning – I said, ‘I think this is gonna be good. It’s going in!’”
He was right.
The high-arching shot snapped the net courts for USC’s stunning 79-76 overtime victory and the Arena crowd of 12,240 was numbed into instant silence.
“When it went in, I looked over at the student section where we’d all been talking back and forth all day and then my teammates just ran out and grabbed me and I was swarmed,,” Howard said.
The crush of USC players – which included big men like Haley, 7-foot-2 Omar Oraby and 6-10 Nikola Jovanovic – engulfed Howard and carried him along in jubilant, flash mob fashion to the very corner of the floor where the UD cheerleaders tried to scatter.
And that’s where Kristina Sucher – the Flyers’ cheerleading adviser who stands about 5-feet tall at best – was bulldozed into the arena railing as the triumphant Trojans whooped and hollered all around her.
• And what happened next may be the most amazing performance of the day.
Sucher didn’t wilt at game’s end.
She pulled herself off the rail and marched up to the USC coaches on the floor to complain about her treatment. They graciously apologized and then quite surprisingly told her to head into the locker room and tell the team how she felt.
And so as the Trojans piled into the cramped visitors’ dressing room, she followed them in and looking up at the smiling – and suddenly a bit surprised – faces, she gave them a piece of her mind, got an apology and marched back out.
“I just told them I’ve never been so disrespected in my life,” she said. “I said ‘I know you guys were excited – you won – but you had me pushed into that bar.’ I got my point across.”
Yes, she did Howard said afterward: “Yeah, that lady was something.”
Told she was the cheerleading adviser, he nodded and said there probably wasn’t a lot to cheer about for UD afterward.
That said, he and his teammates had nothing but praise for the Flyers and their fans.
“Afterward I went over and shook hands with all those fans in the student section,” he said. “It was fun going back and forth with them all day and they congratulated me on the shot. The environment is great here. But we knew that beforehand.”
He told how Haley had played at UD when he was at VCU and some of the other guys remembered coming to the Arena for an NCAA Tournament game two seasons ago.
“I love this place,” said USC coach Andy Enfield. “This is a big-time place to play basketball. They have great community support and Dayton is one of the better programs in the country. It was a great game today, though I know it’s tough when you’re on the wrong end of one of those desperation shots.”
Devin Oliver agreed: “It’s just a horrible feeling in our stomach to go home now for Christmas break like this. … It’s a loss, but we’ve got to remember the season’s not over. We’ve just have to come back and regroup and dig a little deeper.”
Maybe they can channel Kristina Sucher.
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