Put the crown on the University of Dayton Flyers.
They earned it Saturday evening with a wonderful basketball performance that shot down Xavier University 98-89 and ended the Musketeers' four-year reign as champions of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
With it, the Flyers won a berth in the NCAA Tournament after a four-year absence.
Can you believe it?
Dayton is going to the NCAA. The Flyers will find out at 6:30 tonight just where they're going and whom they will play.
"I'm speechless," said Jim O'Brien, the first-year coach who arrived in April with a postseason tournament goal that few thought this UD team could achieve. "If there's a better feeling in the world, it can only be when your children are born and you are there."
Front page of the Dayton Daily News on March 11, 1990.
Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer
Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer
This was after O'Brien was "baptized" by senior Anthony Corbitt, who drenched him with the water cooler when the Flyers reached the locker room after the game.
The Flyers, now 21-9, won their 10th straight game by playing the regular-season champion Muskies nose-to-nose and giving no ground for 40 minutes.
They built a 53-46 lead by halftime, increased it to 13 with 15:01 left in the game and then made a strong stretch run after Xavier cut the deficit to two (91-89) with 3:22 remaining.
Senior point guard Negele Knight, who has been piling one great performance on top of another in the last month, led the Flyers to their second triumph over "X" in eight days by scoring 32 points and handing out a career-high 15 assists.
Corbitt had 18 points, getting many of his eight baskets over Xavier's heralded 6-foot-10 Tyrone Hill.
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Noland Robinson contributed 13 points, Norm Grevey had 11 and Bill Uhl put up 10 points and pulled down a team-high 8 rebounds.
"Every since Coach O'Brien set foot on this campus, he told us this was the game we wanted to be playing in," guard Ray Springer said. We got here, and just getting here wasn't what mattered. It was to win it. We won it, and we're going to enjoy it."
Springer was asked if he thought he'd be playing in the NCAA in his senior year.
"Not in my wildest dreams after three years of what we went through," he said. "It's a whole turnaround. I can't say enough for Coach O'Brien. I love him to death."
Before a capacity crowd of 13,202, Dayton and Xavier waged a war that was exhausting to watch.
Xavier kept pumping the ball inside to Hill and his 6-10 partner, Derek Strong, to work on the Flyers' soft belly.
It worked. Hill scored 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Strong's numbers were 22 and 12.
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Dayton answered with an up-tempo attack featuring the driving and dishing of Knight, the inside jump shot of Corbitt and the sensational outside shooting of Knight, Springer, Uhl, Robinson and Grevey.
The Flyers stunned the Muskies by making a sizzling 63 percent (22-35) of their shots in the first half. They hit 7 of 11 three-point goals.
Dayton cooled to 54 percent (15-28) in the second half and still finished with a splendid 59 percent.
For the game, UD sank 10 of 18 threes, while Xavier was 4 for 14.
The Musketeers were hampered by the loss - just before halftime - of Michael Davenport, their best outside shooter.
Davenport injured his ankle and returned for 52 seconds in the second half, but was unable to keep up.
"We had trouble stopping them," Xavier Coach Pete Gillen said. "A couple of times Jamie Gladden was in Negele Knight's face and couldn't stop him."
The Flyers' half-court defense wasn't anything to shout about, but they forced 18 Xavier turnovers with relentless defensive pressure.
Xavier point guard Jamal Walker coughed up the ball nine times.
"They played good defense," Walker said. "They forced turnovers."
Do not be misled into thinking it was an easy victory.
Xavier, which last week reduced a 26-point UD lead to practically nothing in the space of 14 minutes, did nearly the same thing Saturday.
Dayton went about four minutes (12:02 to 8:08) without a basket in the second half, and "X" cut the lead to three at 78-75.
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Knight stopped the bleeding with one of his three treys, and UD nursed its lead into the late stages.
Dayton led 91-89 at a timeout with 3:22 remaining.
Each team missed a shot, and then Knight sank a jump shot that went in, out and then in with 1:40 left.
Gladden missed on a drive at the other end, and Uhl sank a jumper from the side to make it 95-89 with 1:00 left.
O'Brien thought Uhl's basket was the turning point.
Xavier, feeling the pressure, missed its last seven shots, and the championship belonged to Dayton.
Gillen expects Xavier, 26-4, to get a bid today, but he'd rather not have the Muskies face the eventual champion in the first round, as they have the last two years.
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"We were the hors d'oeuvres two years in a row," Gillen said. "Hopefully we can stick around for the main course and the dessert."
O'Brien began celebrating the UD victory when he hugged his assistants with five seconds to play, and the horn triggered a rowdy celebration of students on the court.
Knight had tears in his eyes as he circled the mob and finally began hugging his brothers and sister, who were visiting from Detroit.
Knight was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and was joined on the all-tourney team by Corbitt, Strong, Hill and Loyola's Keith Gailes.
"NC double A!" the crowd chanted over and over. "NC double A!"