It wasn’t long ago that the Dayton Flyers were ranked 13th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 15th by the Associated Press, their highest ranking in 49 years.
Some bracketologists already had them as a four seed in the NCAA Tournament and veteran Saint Louis coach Jim Crews took the gush to the extreme and said UD, with some luck, could end up in the Final Four.
One thing no one disputed: This Flyers bunch had a chance to do something remarkable.
And now, in quite a perverse way, that’s just what they are doing.
Remarkably, they are playing themselves from what was thought to be lofty status in the NCAA Tournament, down toward a berth in the NIT.
It’s certainly not that extreme yet, but if they keep playing as they have been the past few games, most of their glorious resume stuffers from earlier in the season will be eroded if not completely forgotten.
Saturday, Dayton lost to Rhode Island at UD Arena, 75-66, in a game that wasn’t that close. The Flyers never led. They trailed 11-0, were down by 19 with just over six minutes left and looked timid throughout much of the contest.
The 22-6 Flyers have lost two in a row at home and three of their last four games. They nearly lost the fourth, escaping lowly Saint Louis — 5-10 in Atlantic 10 play — by two points in overtime last Tuesday.
“I want to apologize to our fans No. 1,” UD coach Archie Miller said afterward. “This was an unacceptable performance. … We really let out fans down. We really let ourselves down.
“To be down 19 points with six minutes left in our arena, that hasn’t happened to our team, maybe ever or in a long time. And we have veteran guys, some guys who have been out there a long time.”
He searched to offer an explanation:
“It’s an odd dynamic.”
He said it’s hard to put your finger on just one thing, but I think you could say several things weren’t at all what they seemed to be Saturday:
The first happened just before the opening tip. Rhode Island’s fifth-year senior Four McGlynn reached over toward UD’s Charles Cooke to offer a good-luck handshake or fist bump. The two had played against each other when Cooke was at James Madison and McGlynn was with Towson State.
Cooke ignored McGlynn’s extended hand. After a moment, the Rams guard tried again and again Cooke didn’t respond.
Interpret it how you want: Poor sportsmanship or maybe Cooke had just worked himself into such a battle-ready zone that he didn’t want niceties to defuse his mindset. But the latter is hard to trumpet when you see how hesitantly the Flyers opened.
Maybe some karma was involved, too.
Just 36 seconds into the game McGlynn came off a screen and buried the first of his four 3-pointers. Cooke, meanwhile, had his first shot blocked … and then missed his next four.
“They just absolutely punched us from the beginning,” Miller said. “Unlike certain teams we’ve had here and even this team up until a couple of weeks ago, (we’re) not punching back the whole time (now) and it’s disappointing.”
Another example of things not being as they seem was the pregame speculation that the depleted Rams were ripe for the picking. They had lost guard E.C. Matthews — who had averaged 19.3 points against UD in four previous starts — at the beginning of the season and now were without forward Hassan Martin (who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds in five previous UD games) because of tendinitis. Backup guard Christion Thompson also was out due to a concussion.
And point guard Jarvis Garrett had a broken nose and was wearing a cumbersome mask. Although he got poked in the face once and had to remove the protective gear as he doubled over in pain, he showed his toughness, refitted himself and gave a Masked Marvel accounting: 11 points, seven assists and some late-game press-breaking.
Another example that things weren’t as they seemed happened at the start of the second half. Scoochie Smith had just lobbed the ball into 6-foot-11 Steve McElvene, who scored easily. Suddenly it seemed as if the Flyers had found a soft spot against the smaller Rams.
Instead, 47 seconds later McElvene reached in on a rebound, collected his third foul and returned to the bench, again in foul trouble as he has been many games.
This time McElvene played 11 minutes and had that one basket and one rebound. Backup Sam Miller fared worse. He lasted two minutes, fouled, missed an assignment and had an on-court meltdown when he brushed aside Smith, who was giving him a bit of a talking to.
Because of all that, Kendall Pollard — who missed the past four games with a knee bruise — was brought in and played 24 minutes. That was way too much, Archie Miller admitted afterward.
Pollard hadn’t practiced in weeks and it showed, as he made 2 of 10 shots.
Rhode Island has beaten the Flyers five of the last eight times they’ve met at UD Arena since 2004.
Although a couple were more dramatic, this loss may be the most alarming.
The Flyers are no longer a confident bunch, Archie Miller said. He talked about how they have lost their identity, how they are “paralyzed mentally.”
But then, taking that “things aren’t as they seem” mantra in another direction, Miller added:
“You never know. You just gotta keep pluggin’, keep working at it … and the next thing you know, a couple shots go in and your guys start looking good again.
“… But if you pout and don’t suck it up, then they can continue to steamroll you.”
And then your season turns remarkable for all the wrong reasons.