Miller: Togetherness, toughness allow Dayton to beat Duquesne

The No. 19/17 Dayton Flyers thrive on noise. They played one of their worst games in front of a small crowd at La Salle’s Gola Arena on Jan. 9. They didn’t play their best Tuesday against Duquesne until UD Arena started rocking in the final minutes. All 13,141 fans turned up the volume and willed their team to rally from a 12-point deficit and win 76-74.

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Scoochie Smith’s 3-pointer with 47 seconds to play broke a 70-70 tie. Smith made 1 of 2 free throws with two seconds to play, and then the entire arena held its breath as Duquesne’s Derrick Colter launched a shot from beyond half court. Colter missed, and the Flyers celebrated their eighth straight victory and their 20th straight home victory in Atlantic 10 Conference play.

For two days at least, Dayton (20-3, 10-1) will stand alone in first place. Virginia Commonwealth (18-6, 9-1) doesn’t play until Thursday.

“I’m just proud of our guys to be able to win that game,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “I don’t think our togetherness or toughness early in the year would allow us to win that type of game.”

Dayton twice fought back from double-digit deficits. It trailed 28-16 at the 9:41 mark of the first half and managed to tie the game at 35-35 at halftime.

In the second half, the Flyers scored the first seven points to take a 42-35 lead. Duquesne bounced back, tying the game at 53-53 with 10:27 to play. Then in less than five minutes, the Dukes (15-9, 5-6) went on a 13-4 run to build a 69-57 lead with 5:50 to play.

Colter scored eight of his 21 points in that run. Micah Mason, who scored 27 points and made 7 of 8 3-pointers, scored the final six points on back-to-back 3-pointers.

Dayton looked cooked, but Charles Cooke scored four quick points and the rally began. Duquesne shot 0 of 6 from the field in the last five minutes and committed three turnovers.

“To hold them without a field goal for the last five or six minutes, that’s what it takes,” Miller said. “Good teams have to find a way to win on a night when it’s not perfect. I thought our guys hung tough together, were positive with one another and didn’t let anything fracture them.”

Smith missed 3 of 9 free throws but hit the big shot from long range to give Dayton the lead for good. He lowered his arm over his eyes and bowed his head — that’s the dab celebration that’s so popular these days — as he ran back up the court. His teammates told him after the game he picked the perfect time for that dab.

“I thank Dyshawn for the assist,” Smith said. “I was just ready to shoot as soon as I passed it into the post. It’s just a shot I shoot every day at practice.”