March Madness: Dayton Flyers ‘right there’ but come up short

Dayton graduate assistant manager Brian Frank hugs Scoochie Smith after a loss to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
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Dayton graduate assistant manager Brian Frank hugs Scoochie Smith after a loss to Wichita State in the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Credit: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Seniors end careers with three-game losing streak

Kendall Pollard still had the energy to raise his arm and salute the fans of the Dayton Flyers as he left the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Fellow senior Scoochie Smith, who set a school record by playing his 138th straight game and played all but three minutes in this one, did the same.

The No. 7 seed Flyers exited the court after a 64-58 loss Friday to No. 10 seed Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with broken hearts but also with some perspective. They’ve seen real loss. They ran onto the court before the game while slapping hands with a cardboard cutout of their late teammate, Steve McElvene.

This defeat will sting for a while. That tragedy will pain them forever. No one will know what they would have done with a full team this season, with McElvene swatting shots and rattling rims. They could have used him against the Shockers, who broke open a close game in the final minutes with a 12-5 run.

Until that point, it was anyone’s game. There were 11 ties and 14 lead changes.

“I tell you we battled,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “We battled really hard. We were right there.”

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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WATCH: Dayton senior Kyle Davis talks about the end of his career

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Pollard, Smith, Davis and Charles Cooke, the four senior starters, won their 102nd career game March 1 at UD Arena, clinching the Atlantic 10 outright championship, the first in school history. They never won again. They lost their regular-season finale at George Washington and then fell to Davidson in the A-10 tournament.

“We had a great four years,” senior guard Kyle Davis said. “Being at the university for four years and with all these guys in this room, we created something special for this university. It was tough going down in the first round. Losing three straight … is always hard, but we started something for the young guys to pick up. I wish them the best of luck once we leave here.”

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Dayton (24-8) ended the season with three straight losses. It hadn’t lost three in a row since Pollard, Smith and Davis were freshmen. That losing streak preceded a hot streak that ended with the team in the Elite Eight.

The first two losses in this streak stunned Dayton. This one wasn’t as big a surprise. The Shockers (31-4) are maybe the best No. 10 seed of all time. They rank sixth in the Pomeroy ratings, a highly-respected advanced analysis website that the NCAA selection committee will likely rely on more in the future.

Wichita State has won 10 NCAA tournament games in the last five seasons. It knocked off Dayton coach Archie Miller’s brother Sean and Arizona last season in the first round and completed a sweep of the Miller brothers by dominating the last six minutes Friday.

Caption
Dayton players, including senior Scoochie Smith, center, leave the court after a loss against Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. David Jablonski/Staff

Dayton players, including senior Scoochie Smith, center, leave the court after a loss against Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton players, including senior Scoochie Smith, center, leave the court after a loss against Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. David Jablonski/Staff

The Shockers will play No. 2 seed Kentucky or No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky on Sunday.

“I want to praise Archie Miller and the Dayton Flyers,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said, “and those four seniors for all they’ve done for that university, for that program and for college basketball the last four years. Those dudes are warriors. They’re tough.”

Marshall then praised Smith, who scored 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting. His 15 points in the first half staked Dayton to a 29-27 halftime lead.

Dayton played much better on defense than it had in recent weeks, holding the Shockers to 39.6 percent shooting from the field (19 of 48) and 30 percent shooting from 3-point range (6 of 20). No Flyer, other than Smith, however, had much success on offense.

Pollard scored 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Davis scored six points and took only one shot. Cooke struggled most of all, scoring six points on 1-of-10 shooting. He was the most distraught player in the locker room after the game.

The Flyers shot 31 percent from the field (18 of 58) and 31.8 percent from 3-point range. Take away Smith’s shooting numbers, and Dayton made 9 of 41 field-goal attempts (22 percent).

Wichita also won the game with a 48-29 rebounding margin. It d outscored Dayton 19-8 in second-chance points.

“I was disappointed in the first half,” Marshall said. “I thought we were playing passively. I thought we were not executing. The three words that I talk about are: verve, vigor and vitality. We didn’t have those things. We played with much better energy and passion in the second half. We were tremendous on the glass.”

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