The Dayton Flyers won a rugged, slugfest of a basketball game with Virginia Commonwealth University on Saturday night at UD Arena – 68-67 in overtime – because two players listened to their elders when they were kids.
I’m talking about Flyers’ point guard Scoochie Smith, who VCU couldn’t stop, in part, because of a patented move he used time and again as he drove down the lane on his way to a career-high 29-point night.
And I’m also referring to Kyle Davis, who made two hard-nosed, hard-to-believe plays in the final 16.7 seconds of overtime.
Those efforts not only sealed the victory in front of a delirious, sold-out home crowd, but they gave the Flyers a share of their first overall Atlantic 10 regular season title – from 1998 to 2004 they did win the league’s West Division three times – and a number one seed in the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn later this week.
Although UD shares this league crown with VCU and St. Bonaventure, it got the top spot in the tournament because of its advantage in head-to-head tiebreakers. Such glorious reward is what prompted the Flyers to first run to the end of the court after their postgame handshakes with VCU and crawl up in to the crowd of celebrating UD students.
After that the players headed up the tunnel toward the dressing room, only to suddenly do an about-face, find a ladder and a scissors and return to the court for an unscripted, net-cutting ceremony.
So with all this, where did the elders come in?
Let’s start with Smith, since he was the star of the game. His 29 points came with eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot against just two turnovers in 42 minutes of play.
Before the team left for last Tuesday’s game at Richmond, head coach Archie Miller said he pulled Smith aside and told him the team needed him. The Flyers had lost three of their previous four games and the players’ confidence had eroded.
“He’s our engine,” Miller said. “He needs to be playing well. That doesn’t mean production — in points or assists — it just means playing well, having a voice, being a leader.”
Smith scored what was then a career-high 26 points in UD’s 85-84 victory over the Spiders.
The challenge was even tougher against an aggressive VCU squad that was led by his longtime friend and former high school teammate from the Bronx, Melvin Johnson, the Rams’ leading scorer.
Smith prevailed, in part, because of that move he learned in grade school.
As he drove the lane, he continually resorted to a behind-the-back dribble that VCU could not stop. It either enabled him to finish his drive with a left handed, scoop layup or, if the defense did react, he could spin back the other way for a right-handed layup or a pass to a waiting teammate.
“I learned that (behind the back dribble) in gym class in the third grade,” he said with a grin after the game. “My elementary coach was also the gym teacher … and that’s what he taught me.
“Now, I try to protect the ball at all times. I try not to cross in front of the defender – that’s what they want you to do — and if one reaches, I go behind my back.”
Johnson had seen the move before – when the pair played at now defunct powerhouse Rice High School – but he couldn’t stop it either.
The pair did have a teasing moment just before the start of the second half. As Johnson waited to in-bounds the ball, the grinning Smith called out to him, then waved a hand in front of his own face to show how tight the UD defense would play him.
“I had guarded him a few minutes (in the first half) and he told me I was fouling him,” Smith laughed. “I teased him and told him it was just like practice. We were just having a little fun with it.”
Smith, though, was prophetic. Johnson did score 16 points, but he was 6 of 23 from the field and made just two of 11 three-point attempts.
Smith, meanwhile, hit 8 of 17 field-goal attempts and went 10 for 12 from the free-throw line.
He didn’t have just a career-game, he had, in Archie Miller’s eyes, “an all-conference week.”
Yet, for all that, it still came down to the gritty, late-game heroics by Davis, the fellow junior guard from Chicago’s South Side.
With 27.4 seconds left in overtime, VCU took the 67-66 lead on a JeQuan Lewis free throw.
Smith then drove the lane and at the last second passed the ball to Davis, who was cutting to the rim from the wing.
In front of the 6-foot Davis was one big problem: VCU’s 6-foot-7 shot blocker Mo Alie-Cox. He had just swatted Davis’ last layup attempt 36 seconds earlier.
This time Davis didn’t hesitate.
He turned as he made leaping contact with the ready-to-stuff Alie-Cox. With a bit of a double-clutch move, Davis managed not only to get the shot off, but to score.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Smith marveled afterward. “I didn’t think he’d get it off and I don’t know how he made it. It was terrific. “
That put UD ahead 68-67. And when VCU lost the ball out of bounds on the next possession, UD got the ball back with 8.8 seconds left.
All UD had to do was get the ball inbounds and either avoid VCU or get fouled and make free throws.
Instead, Davis’ inbounds pass beneath the VCU basket was stolen by the Rams’ Doug Brooks, who turned to dish the ball to 6-foot-7 teammate Justin Tillman, who was underneath the basket ready to put VCU ahead with a final layup.
But then, out of nowhere, Davis lunged at Brooks, stole the ball back and took off down the court, where he was fouled.
Tillman was left sprawled on the court, pounding his fists in frustration.
Although Davis missed the free throw, enough time elapsed that VCU got just one last – and errant – three-point attempt by Johnson before the buzzer.
“All I had in my head was just make another hard play,” Davis said. “It was like, ‘You messed up, you gotta get the ball back and make another hard play to win this game.’”
As it turns out, Davis was drawing on a childhood lesson hammered into him by his uncle, Richard Davis.
“Back when he was little, he’d play with us older guys at a hoop in the alley behind our place,” his uncle said. “He was small and we’d rough him up pretty good. But I’d never let him go in the house until he made some plays and finally won a game.
“He couldn’t leave the court until he finally won.”
And that’s just the way he did it Saturday night.