Dayton Flyers: Best and worst from last 10 November tournaments

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Highlights: Dayton lands knockout blow in second half vs. Virginia Tech

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Flyers return to Orlando to play in ESPN Events Invitational this week

The connection between the Dayton Flyers and the Flyer Faithful has been analyzed numerous times over the years.

Tim Wabler, the former Dayton athletic director, explained it simply earlier this fall as he was talking to me for a book I’m writing about the history of UD Arena.

“I think the Dayton fans generally cheer for their program through thick and thin,” said Wabler, who retired in 2015. “There’s just a feeling that the young men who are out there and the young women who are out there playing hard are representing you.”

That feeling led the fans to buy every ticket for the 2021-22 men’s basketball season before the first game. Dayton announced Nov. 4 it had sold out 17 home games. It’s the first time in 53 seasons of UD Arena that has happened.

The fan support doesn’t end at the arena, of course. Dayton fans have a reputation for traveling to see their team, especially when it comes to the annual November tournaments that take them as far as the Maui Invitational, the Charleston Classic or the ESPN Events Invitational that starts Thursday at noon with a game against the Miami Hurricanes in Orlando, Fla.

Dayton gets to play in the premier in-season tournaments every year, in part, because its fans help fill the arenas, and that looks good on television.

“Dayton’s one of the very elite travel programs in the country,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events in 2014 at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. “We’ve recognized that. It’s something that hasn’t changed decade upon decade. There’s always pride in the Flyers. The community has always supported them.”

Seven years later, that’s still true, though Dayton did not get to play in a November tournament last season. It withdrew from the Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D., weeks before it was scheduled to take place because of the COVID-19 situation there. That makes the event this week at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports all the more special.

Dayton has a long history of playing in these type of tournaments, going back to the National Catholic Invitational in Denver, Colo, in 1949. The Flyers played in a Hawaii tournament for the first time in 1991 and made their only appearance in the Great Alaska Shootout a year later. They made the first of four appearances in the Maui Invitational in 2000.

Throughout the 1990s and the first decade of this century, Dayton played in these events once every two or three years. As for playing three games at one site in a three or four-day period every year, that tradition started in 2008 with the Chicago Invitational Challenge.

For the purposes of this story, I’m going to limit my analysis to the last 10 tournaments, seven of which I’ve covered in person, and yes, I’ll be there again this week in Florida for all three games. Here is the best and worst of Dayton’s play in November tournaments from 2010-19.

Best performance: Dayton’s only championship during this span came in the Old Spice Classic at the HP Field House. It beat Wake Forest, Fairfield and Minnesota.

In an 86-70 victory against Minnesota, Kevin Dillard had 19 points, 10 assists, seven steals and three blocks. He was named MVP of the tournament.

“When I came here, I said I wanted to win championships,” Dillard said after the victory. “I said I wanted to be part of a winning tradition. We’ve got great fans. We couldn’t have done it without them. I love this community. That’s why I came.”

Worst performance: Dayton has not finished worse than fifth in the last 10 tournaments. Only twice has it failed to win more than one game. In 2017, coach Anthony Grant’s first season, Dayton finished 1-2 in a relatively weak field at the Charleston Classic. It lost to Hofstra, beat Ohio and then lost to Old Dominion.

Most impressive victory: Dayton beat Gonzaga, which ranked 11th at the time in the Ken Pomeroy ratings, 84-79 in the first round of the Maui Invitational in 2013. That turned out to be the best victory on Dayton’s resume and helped it earn a No. 11 seed in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

Most disappointing loss: Dayton lost 90-61 to Xavier in 2015 in the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational championship in Orlando. It was Dayton’s worst loss to Xavier since a 46-12 defeat in 1931-32.

“I’ve got to give full credit to Xavier and their players and staff for a fantastic game,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said after the game. “They ripped through the tournament. They’re going to be a contender for a lot of things. They have a lot of weapons. They played with great force today. They had great attitude.”

Best individual performance: Obi Toppin’s campaign for national player of the year began with his play in the Maui Invitational in 2019. He scored 25 points against Georgia, 24 against Virginia Tech and 18 in a overtime loss to Kansas in the championship game.

“He’s a special talent,” Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said then, “and we’re lucky to have him.”

Luckiest moment: Dayton beat Texas A&M 55-53 in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2014 when Devon Scott tipped in a missed layup by Scoochie Smith with 1.2 seconds to play.

”The play was set up for Scoochie to get a screen from Kendall (Pollard) and make a play from there,” Scott said. “My mindset as he was coming down the lane was to get on the glass no matter what. Miss, make or whatever, I just wanted to make sure I was up there. It just happened to roll my way.”

Unluckiest moment: Dayton lost 67-66 to Baylor in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational in 2013 when Devin Oliver’s tip of a missed jumper by Vee Sanford fell off the rim at the buzzer.

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