Tom Archdeacon: Dayton Flyers can’t wait for 2016 to end

Dayton’s Charles Cooke looks for room to manuever during Friday night’s game vs. La Salle. Contributed photo/Erik Schelkun
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Dayton’s Charles Cooke looks for room to manuever during Friday night’s game vs. La Salle. Contributed photo/Erik Schelkun

The day began with Kendall Pollard going from one Dayton Flyer teammate to another in the early afternoon shoot-around and telling each how good he felt.

“This was the best I’d felt in a long, long time, maybe back as far as November of last year,” the 6-foot-6 senior said. “I wanted the guys to know. The days I felt bad I let ‘em know, too, so they could pick me up. And when I tell them I’m feeling good, they know what I mean.”

What it meant Friday night at UD Arena was that he scored a season-high 20 points and added a career-high four steals as the Flyers topped LaSalle 66-55 in the first game of Atlantic 10 Conference play.

And yet, the night ended with Charles Cooke, the team’s best player and its leading scorer and rebounder, barely able to walk up the long, steep ramp that leads from the Arena’s Blackburn Court to the Donoher Center and the Flyers dressing room.

With trainer Mike Mulcahey on one side of him and another aide flanking his other side, the 6-foot-5 guard – a towel over his head that mostly hid a face contorted in pain – took small, slow steps as he inched his way up the incline. It took him a good three minutes to traverse the same distance his teammates had covered in a few seconds ahead of him.

With just over three minutes left in the game Cooke had driven hard to the basket and twisted his body awkwardly as he tried to go up and over La Salle’s 6-foot-5 Jordan Price, who was moving into him.

The collision – in which Price was whistled for the foul – caused Cooke to come crashing down hard onto the court. He landed on his back and rolled to his side, clenched in pain.

Instantly, the Arena grew quiet as many in the crowd of 12,963 held their breath. They have seen plenty injuries in the last couple of years and the sight of the 19.2 ppg scorer writhing on the floor was sobering for everyone.

Soon Mulcahey was kneeling at his side checking his lower back and Coach Archie Miller was standing over him.

After a couple of minutes, Cooke was helped off the court, limping, while also holding his heavily-taped wrist, which he had injured nine days earlier against Vanderbilt and which had kept him out of last Friday night’s game against VMI.

This injury seemed potentially serious.

“Obviously he took a really hard fall,” Miller said afterward. “It looks like he landed on his lower back area and I’m sure he’s very, very sore.

“I’m not sure what that entails. Hopefully, it’s just a lower back (bruise) or maybe a tailbone. But he’s gonna be sore. He was already sore with his wrist.

“I suspect he could be out a little bit.”

Pollard seemed of similar mind afterward:

“I hope he’s OK, but he seemed pretty down right now. I don’t know what it all means.”

It means the Flyers won the battle Friday night , but who knows about the overall war.

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As Miller noted his 10-3 team is getting ready to play six games in 19 days.

Without Cooke, with reserve guard Darrell Davis sidelined Friday night with a hamstring injury and 6-foot-7 Josh Cunningham lost most of the year – if not all – with a torn ligament in his ankle, there’s a real concern about able bodies.

Although Miller prefaced any such talk with “we’ don’t make excuses,” he did admit:

“We’ve had our tough sledding.”

He said if his roster is down in numbers, “we’ll have to do like we did couple of years ago and literally not practice more than 45 minutes to an hour.

“Eventually if we can get all our able bodies back, maybe we have a chance. I think I’m looking forward to January 1st, 2017.”

So on New Year’s Eve, how does he feel about finally moving on from 2016?

He thought about the question in silence for a couple of seconds, then said quietly:

“From last New Year’s Eve to this one, we’ve seen a lot of tough things.

“It started with the loss of Steve. And then Josh going down and the other injuries. It’s been hard, but at the end of the day life is hard. You just try to pick up the pieces and keep doing the best you can.”

The death of 6-foot-11 center Steve McElvene due to an enlarged heart last May rocked the program to its core.

As the new season began it was hoped Cunningham – finally able to play after sitting out a year after transferring from Bradley – would make up for some of the lost inside presence. Then he was injured on a dunk attempt late in the second game of the season.

At the same time Pollard was sidelined the first six games of the season as he recovered from off season wrist and knee surgeries and then a preseason thigh bruise.

“It was frustrating sitting out, but finally I got to a point of being OK with it and just trying to get better,” he said

He said Mulcahey was a big part of that process: “I spent more time with Mike than anybody. He does a very good job. And now he’ll be with Cooke all day tomorrow.”

As for Miller he said he had no big New Year’s Eve plans:

“I’m just gonna sit on my (rear end) and wait for 2017.”

He has had enough of 2016.