Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and the rest of the Dayton Flyers stood still on the court, disbelief etched on their faces, as the final seconds ticked away Friday at PPG Paints Arena.
This was not in the script. No one on the Dayton bench, especially the four seniors, thought their Atlantic 10 careers would end this way. A Dayton team that made its reputation for toughness in the final minutes ran into a team determined to change the story line.
Mostly, the Flyers ran into an Ohioan named Jack Gibbs. The Davidson senior star from Westerville made two 3-pointers in the final minute as the No. 9 seed Wildcats upset the top-seeded Flyers 73-67 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Davidson
The big shots by Gibbs, who scored 34 points, came two weeks after Smith saved the Flyers with three 3-pointers in overtime at Davidson.
“He’s a really good player,” Smith said. “He’s dominant in the offense, and if you let him get going, results are going to happen like they did today.”
Here are five things to know about Dayton’s 31st game:
1. Big picture: The Flyers lost their second straight game and head to Selection Sunday with a mark of 24-7. That should be good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season. No UD team has ever advanced to the big dance four years in a row.
If Dayton does play next week in Indianapolis, Buffalo, Tulsa or some other far-flung locale, it will do so without momentum.
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The season peaked with a Senior Night victory against Virginia Commonwealth on March 1. The Flyers celebrated their first outright A-10 championship. That game seems far away now. The Flyers have to regroup fast for whatever lies ahead.
“For us, one loss, a couple of down moments here at the end shouldn’t define our season,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “We’re the regular-season champions, and we’ve dealt with so much in the offseason and during the season. Our resiliency has led us back to the NCAA Tournament, which is a credit to these guys and their improvement. We’ll wait and see where we’re going and then go from there. I think we all know how desperate we’ll have to be to find a way to win on the biggest stage against the best teams in the country.”
2. Big hole: Dayton overcame a 13-point deficit in the final eight minutes in the first game against Davidson. It trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half in this one. Double-digit deficits have become a trend for the Flyers, who trailed 21-5 in their previous game March 4 against George Washington and lost 87-81.
“We’ve just lost an edge about us defensively,” Miller said. “That’s cost us here in the back six or seven games. We were winning a lot of them. We’re spotting teams 13 points, and it’s hard to claw your way out of it.”
3. Quick comeback: Dayton trailed 37-25 at halftime. It opened the half on an 8-2 run to get back in the game. It didn’t tie until Smith hit a 3-pointer with 3:34 to play.
Then Charles Cooke gave the Flyers their first lead since the opening minute with a 3-pointer at the 2:17 mark. Cooke led the Flyers with 14 points.
Dayton led 65-62 and appeared on its way to a familiar type of victory. Dayton’s defense, at that point, had played much better in the second half. Davidson shot 41.4 percent from the field in the second half after shooting 50 percent in the first half.
“We were much more engaged,” Miller said. “We had more pressure on the ball. We were more detailed off the ball just in terms of being where we were supposed to be.”
4. Final minutes: Davidson’s Jon Axel Gudmundsson tied it with a 3-pointer on the next possession after Cooke’s go-ahead shot. Dayton didn’t get a good look on its next possession. Kendall Pollard missed a 3-pointer late in the shot clock.
Then Gibbs hit the first of his two big shots. He made a 3-pointer in the corner with Dayton’s all-conference defender, Kyle Davis, right in his face. The same thing happened on Davidson’s next possession with 17 seconds left. Only this time Davis fouled Gibbs, who celebrated in front of the Davidson bench with VCU fans going wild in the background rooting for the upset. He missed the free throw, but the shot doomed Dayton.
Gibbs played all but two minutes and made 12 of 22 shots from the field, including 5 of 11 3-pointers.
“I just wanted the ball in my hands at the end of the game,” Gibbs said. “I tried to get some separation on the shot, and luckily it went in.”
5. Missed chances: Dayton won nine straight in the second half of the season in part by improving its free-throw percentage. In the last two games, it regressed. The Flyers made 17 of 31 at George Washington. They made 5 of 10 against Davidson. The Wildcats made 12 of 13.
“We average about 25 free throws a game,” Miller said. “When you don’t have the opportunity to get to the line, sometimes you have to be really perfect from the outside or you’ve got to be perfect in your field goals because we generate a lot of points at the line.”
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