EDITOR’S NOTE: Every Thursday we’ll dive into the archives to look back at University of Dayton basketball history.
The Dayton Flyers play their final game before Christmas on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23 — and sometimes Dec. 21 — almost every year.
Only once since 1947, which is as far back as the media guide lists dates with games, has Dayton played a game on Christmas Day. That game took place in 1987 as part of the Chaminade Christmas Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“I’d rather not be playing on Christmas,” Dayton coach Don Donoher said then. “We’ve had a lot of years when we’ve had practices on Christmas night. Those are bummers, but that’s a sacrifice the player (and a coach) has to make.”
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Dayton also played on Christmas Eve in that tournament — the only time it has ever done that — and suffered what was then the most lopsided loss in its history, 151-99 to Oklahoma.
That 52-point loss was revisited in 2015 when the Flyers played Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The 69-66 loss to La Salle a day later is not as memorable except for the uniqueness of its date. This was the second of six losses in a row for Dayton, which would finish 13-18 that season. It was the longest losing streak since the 1976-77 season.
Here’s a look back at the Dayton Daily News coverage of that game. This game story by Bucky Albers appeared in the Dec. 26, 1987, edition.
UD rally comes up short
HONOLULU, Hawaii — In the first half against La Salle Thursday afternoon, the University of Dayton Flyers dug themselves a hole as deep as some of the craters in these parts.
It was a hole so deep their second-half rally wasn’t enough to avoid a 69-66 defeat at the hands of the La Salle Explorers.
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Back-to-back 3-point attempts by Negele Knight and Steve Smith in the last 10 seconds both missed, sending the Flyers to defeat for the third time in 10 games this season.
Consequently, Dayton emerged from the Chaminade Christmas Classic with its second loss in three games.
“It was a game of two evenly-matched teams,” UD Coach Don Donoher said. “We’ve won our share of close ones. It’s hard to win them all.”
The Flyers lost this physical contest at Blaidsell Arena because they couldn’t rebound with the Explorers.
Thirty one years ago this week in Hawaii, @DaytonMBB played its first and still only game on Christmas Day, losing 69-66 to La Salle. The Explorers were led by sophomore Lionel Simmons, who is the third-leading scorer in NCAA history (3,217 points). pic.twitter.com/lpdfjiDvaT— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) December 26, 2018
Lionel Simmons, La Salle’s brilliant 6-foot-6 sophomore, wasn’t having a good shooting day, but he scored 26 points because UD couldn’t keep him off the offensive board.
Dayton was out-rebounded 47-29, getting only six offensive rebounds to the Explorers’ 18. Simmons had 14 of La Salle’s total.
“It’s lack of boxing out,” Donoher said. “Our guys simply don’t body people, and I don’t know when we’re going to get the hang of it. We have to box out because we’re not not good jumpers. There are guys in the NBA who are good jumpers, and they box out.”
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La Salle, now 8-3, crippled Dayton’s offense by coming out in a zone defense and playing it aggressively.
The Flyers couldn’t get the ball inside, and only a trio of 3-point shots by Ray Springer kept them from being out of it by halftime.
As it was, La Salle led by just 29-21 at the intermission because the Explorers were having a shooting nightmare.
La Salle shot 27 percent (12-44) in the first 20 minutes, and Dayton made only 31 percent (9-29) of its attempts.
Things changed in the second half. Donoher said it was because his inside men worked harder, and the guards did a better job of getting the ball to them.
Forward Steve Pittman, who had only two baskets in the first half, got hot in the second and knocked in six to finish with a team-leading 16 points.
“The guards were hitting the outside shots early, and (the Explorers) started keying on them,” Pittman said.
La Salle, which made only two of its first 19 shots in the game, hit four of six at the beginning of the second half to take a 10-point lead at 37-27. Then Dayton began to whittle it down.
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Norm Grevey entered the game with 12:30 left and promptly made two 3-point shots and a pair of free throws to give Dayton a big lift.
The Flyers finally caught La Salle at 54 when Steve Smith drove the baseline for a layup with 5:01 left.
The momentum was with Dayton, but the rebounding still wasn’t.
UD never was able to get the lead. Baskets by PIttman and Smith tied the score at 56 and 58.
Then La Salle guard Rich Tarr, who had been silent most of the game, ripped in a 3-pointer with 1:55 left for a 61-58 lead.
“He had just turned it over and got scolded,” La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. “He showed some guts there.”
At the other end, Smith tried to match the 3-pointer and missed, after which Springer fouled Tarr.
The 6-foot guard buried both free throws for a 63-58 lead at 1:33. When Knight missed a jumper, Simmons rebounded and was fouled. He sank both, and La Salle was up 65-58 with 1:05 left.
Don’t forget the 3-point shot. UD’s Smith made two free throws, but the Flyers failed to cover their basket on the subsequent press, and La Salle’s Craig Conlin got an easy layup.
It was 67-60 La Salle.
Here Smith made a 3. Simmons missed a free throw and Knight made another 3 to draw Dayton’s deficit to one at 67-66 with 20 seconds left.
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Knight wisely fouled Tim Legler to start the clock with 14 seconds to play.
Legler, a good shooter who was having a horrible (2-14) day, went to the line and made both for a 69-66 lead.
Dayton came down the floor, and Knight put up a 3.
“It felt good,” Knight said. “It just didn’t fall.”
“We’re happy to get out of here with a win,” Morris said. “We have a lot of respect for Dayton. They’re not chopped liver. I’m sure Don’s disappointed with the way they played, but they’re a quality team. They’ll be in the NCAA. They have a good basketball team.”
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