Dayton players, from left to right, Greg Kohls, Ramad Marshall, Warren Williams, Frank Iguodala and Keith Waleskowski celebrates with the championship trophy after defeating Hawaii 82-72 in the championship game at the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2003. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Photo: MICHAEL CONROY/AP
Photo: MICHAEL CONROY/AP

Maui Invitational history: Looking back at Dayton’s 2003 championship

Flyers beat Central Michigan, San Diego State and Hawaii to win the tournament

Sixteen years ago, Dayton became the first team from outside the power conferences to win the Maui Invitational.

» MORE ON MAUI: Dayton should expert ‘NCAA tournament vibe’

The 2003 Maui field was a weak field, especially compared to recent tournaments. The biggest name in the 2003 tournament was Ohio State, and it finished that season 14-16. It was the last season of the Jim O’Brien era. Villanova was also there, but it was 18-17 that season.

Dayton did not play either of those teams. Ohio State lost 83-61 to San Diego State in the first round, or the Flyers and Buckeyes would have met for the first time since 1988.

The Flyers return to the Maui Invitational this month, opening with a first-round game against Georgia at 2:30 p.m. Monday (9:30 a.m. Maui time). Here’s a review of the team’s performance in 2003:

Setting the scene: Brian Gregory took over the program in April after Oliver Purnell left for Clemson. Gregory inherited a team that returned three of its top four scorers. Ramod Marshall, Keith Waleskowski and Sean Finn were all seniors in the 2003-04 season. They helped lead the Flyers to the Atlantic 10 tournament championship the previous March. Dayton opened the season with a 90-77 victory at Pepperdine in California and then flew on to Maui.

Biggest victory: The highest-ranked team Dayton beat, judging by the Ken Pomeroy ratings, was No. 78 Hawaii, which finished the season 21-12. The Flyers beat Hawaii 82-72 in the championship game.

» RELATED: Ranking quality of Dayton’s exempt tournaments over the years

Dayton overcame a nine-point deficit in the second half in part because it switched to a zone defense.

"When we went zone, it got us in a rhythm and got them out of rhythm," Gregory said. "Our guys played it extremely well. We haven't practiced it that much. Keith and Sean were anchoring it, and our perimeter players did a great job matching up on their shooters."

Marshall scored 27 points. Waleskowski, who was named MVP of the tournament, scored 17.

Best game: After routing Central Michigan 82-63 in the first round, Dayton beat San Diego State 76-71 in the semifinals.

» MAUI FIELD: What fans need to know

Dayton trailed by six with under nine minutes to play but rallied and took the lead on three free throws by Marshall with 1:59 remaining.

"I didn't shoot free throws well last year (.658), and I was thinking about how I've been telling coach I wasn't going to miss any this year," Marshall said.

Coach’s summary: "This has to be a starting point for our program," Gregory said. "As wonderful as this feeling is, I'll be awfully disappointed if this were to be the highlight of the season. A win like this can potentially take you to another level, because your name goes up on that wall with all of the other great programs who have won this tournament. And it's there forever. I told the team that. The great thing about winning a championship is that it is yours from now on. No one can take that away from you."

What it meant: It was a good starting point for Dayton, which won its first nine games that season before losing to No. 14 Cincinnati. The Flyers reached the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, losing 76-69 in double overtime to DePaul in the first round.

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