Dayton earns vital road win over Saint Louis
ST. LOUIS -- According to Dayton coach Archie Miller, the Flyers aren’t worrying about their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
“We started eliminating that noise in January when no one liked us,” he said.
If Wednesday night means anything, the Flyers might have to take the plugs from their ears.
Using a 16-2 second-half run, Dayton took a huge step toward securing an at-large NCAA berth with a 72-67 Atlantic 10 Conference upset of No. 17 Saint Louis at Chaifetz Arena.
It was the eighth win in nine games for the Flyers, who never led until a 3-pointer by guard Jordan Sibert with 5:49 left snapped a 57-57 tie. That basket keyed a stretch in which Dayton (21-9, 9-6) scored on six consecutive possessions against the conference’s top scoring defense.
“We found a way to start playing together more and more,” Sibert said of the late spurt. “We stayed together. We had to keep playing hard.”
Sibert paced the Flyers’ balanced attack with 14 points, and he added five rebounds and four steals. Forward Dyshawn Pierre added 11 points, and reserve forward Jalen Robinson contributed 10, canning two critical 3-pointers during the big run. Forward Devin Oliver capped it with a three-point play in transition, giving the Flyers a 68-59 advantage with 3:38 left.
The Billikens fought back, closing within 68-67 with 33.5 seconds remaining on a layup by forward Dwayne Evans. Dayton came up empty on five straight possessions, committing three turnovers.
Guard Khari Price steadied the Flyers by hitting two foul shots with 27.2 seconds left for a three-point lead. Center Rob Loe and guard Jake Barnett clanged potential game-tying 3-pointers on Saint Louis’ next possession.
Sibert sewed it up by nailing both ends of a one-and-one with 3.3 seconds remaining, capping Dayton’s 11-of-11 performance at the line in the second half.
The Billikens (25-5, 12-3) dropped their third straight game, in part because they converted only eight of 15 free throws after halftime. Evans, Barnett and guard Jordair Jett each missed foul shots in the final 3:20.
“I thought it was a good college basketball game,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “Thought we played pretty well for stretches, but Dayton outplayed us. We got a great look at the end, and it just didn’t go down.”
While the Billikens’ Senior Night ceremonies were dampened by the result, Saint Louis still earned no worse than a share of the conference title when George Washington dumped Saint Joseph’s 76-71. The Hawks’ loss also assured the Billikens of the top seed for next week’s conference tournament.
Not surprisingly, Crews chose to focus on that accomplishment instead of his team’s late-season slide.
“These guys have won back-to-back championships, and it’s hard to win a game, much less a championship,” he said. “I‘m not delighted that we lost, but to win back-to-back championships, that’s awesome.”
Evans scored a game-high 18 points for the Billikens, and guard Mike McCall Jr. added 10. However, Jett, an A-10 Player of the Year candidate, took just three shots and scored only nine points. He appeared to suffer the effects of a knee injury that cost him first-half minutes.
The Flyers trailed by as many as 10 points early in the second half, but they kept running fresh bodies on the floor and finally produced the big run that gave them a result they desperately needed to boost their NCAA at-large resume.
“With the implications going into this game, it was the biggest win in my four years,” Oliver said.
NOTES: Saint Louis’ senior class, which was honored in postgame ceremonies, is the winningest group in school history. The players own 91 victories, two more than last year’s group. ... A good barometer of success for Dayton has been how many players score in double figures. When the Flyers have three or more tally at least 10 points, they are 20-2. ... The Billikens’ pep band played the New Zealand national anthem before the game to honor senior C Rob Loe, who hails from Auckland.