What I Learned From Buffalo: UConn Huskies and Dayton Flyers
The SI.com writers who covered the first weekend of the NCAA tournament offer their takeaways on each of the teams from their sites that advanced to the Sweet 16:
Other sites: Milwaukee (Michigan and Wisconsin) | Raleigh (Virginia and Tennessee) | Orlando (Florida and Louisville | San Antonio (Iowa State and Baylor) | San Diego (Arizona and UCLA) | St. Louis (Kentucky and Stanford) | Spokane (Michigan State and San Diego State)
Seed: No 7 in East
Results: Beat No. 10 St. Joseph's 89-81 (OT); beat No. 2 Villanova (77-65)
Upon returning to the locker room after UConn’s round of 32 win over Villanova on Saturday, freshman guard Terrence Samuel was swarmed and pummeled by his teammates. The faux fracas is a longstanding postgame tradition among Huskies, meant to congratulate a player (usually a freshman) on having played a particularly key role in the that day's game. Samuel, who had entered the game averaging 1.8 points in 7.7 minutes, earned the beatdown for his performance when pressed into duty by star point guard Shabazz Napier’s first-half foul trouble, which lead to a career-high 11 points in 21 minutes.
And aside from a confession that he was “a little nervous” upon entering the game, knowing that he’d be given an extended run, Samuel was not lacking confidence when reflecting on the win at his locker. “I was a game-changer,” Samuel said, balancing a plastic plate holding two brownies and a sandwich wrap on his thighs as he iced both knees. “I got stops on defense. I pushed the ball in transition. I got people open for layups.”
Make no mistake: There is no Husky more central to the team’s Sweet 16 run than Napier, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year who scored 21 points in Saturday’s second half after putting up 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists in an overtime win over Saint Joseph’s two days earlier. But without the collective contributions of Napier’s complements in Buffalo, UConn would likely not be going to New York City this weekend. Against the Hawks, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels combined to hit seven of 16 three-point attempts and score 35 points, giving the offense a needed boost while Napier endured a rough stretch of shooting. In the final minute of regulation, backup freshman big man Amida Brimah put back a Napier miss for a basket while being fouled and then, in the words of Boatright, “went to the line with the swag and all that” to tie the game on a free throw.
Against Villanova, Samuel was not the only player exceeding his normal role. Senior Niels Giffey -- known primarily as a three-point specialist -- saw extended time at the four and pulled in 11 rebounds; guard Lasan Kromah came off the bench to score 12 points and grab four steals. “I know how good my teammates are,” Napier said. “I just want everyone else to know that.”
Napier put a scare into the Huskies late in the Villanova win, when he hurt his shin in a collision with Wildcats guard Darrun Hilliard and limped out of the game in obvious pain. But just a few minutes later, Napier returned to score on a brilliant, backspin-heavy layup while slicing through the lane, and after the game he said he was “a little sore” but expected to be fine going forward. For Friday’s Sweet 16 tilt against Iowa State -- at Madison Square Garden, which UConn players refer to as their second home -- the Huskies will need him to be. And if UConn is to keep dancing, it will need to continue putting on more than a one-man show.
Seed: No. 11 in South
Dayton coach Archie Miller grew up in a basketball dynasty in Beaver Falls, Pa., the son of John (who coached Blackhawk High to four state titles) and the 10-years-younger brother of Sean, a onetime dribbling prodigy (he appeared on The Tonight Show at age 14) and star player under their father. This weekend, the familial relations led to public confusion at least twice: at his press conference the day before coaching against Dayton, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim thought it was Archie who had been a guest of Johnny Carson, and CBS anchor Greg Gumbel mixed up the two siblings during an awkward interview with Archie. Archie has said the burden of Sean’s shadow impacted his disposition growing up, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in January, “I always felt like I had a chip on my shoulder.”
In Buffalo, his Flyers could relate. In a storyline-rich round of 64 matchup Miller saw coming (“This is gonna be us,” he said to his team once Ohio State was announced as a No. 6 seed on Selection Sunday) Dayton squared off with the state’s alpha school, drawing days of questions about what it would mean to beat the Buckeyes. The next round brought No. 3 seed Syracuse, the king of this particular region, and with it a barrage of inquiries about Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone and an orange-clad game day crowd that turned the First Niagara Center into something like Carrier Dome West. The Flyers were mostly diplomatic when discussing their opponents, but there were times that a sense of being slighted shone through, particularly after both power-conference giants had been vanquished.
“We don’t get respect when we step on the court,” forward Devon Scott said following the win over Syracuse. “We have to earn it.. . . . .We got the nation’s attention and I think people are taking us more seriously.”
The Flyers survived the weekend because they believed, as Scott made emphatically clear, that they are no one’s little brother. They attacked Ohio State inside and returned their every blow in a pendulum of a second half; they waited and waited until they found spots to attack the Orange, then broke their backs on layups and put-backs in the shot clock’s dying seconds. Either game could have easily gone the other way, with Aaron Craft and Tyler Ennis missing respective buzzer-beaters that would have ended Dayton’s season. One imagines the Flyers wouldn’t mind such a thing being pointed out. With the newfound esteem that comes with a Sweet 16 berth, perhaps they could use another chip.
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