Down to six scholarship players, none taller than 6’6”, and coming off a hard-fought comeback win just two days earlier, No. 11 seed Dayton faced a tall task against a lengthy Providence team that nearly knocked off No. 1 seed Villanova in the Big East tournament last weekend.
On a Friday when chalk reigned supreme, the undermanned Flyers found some tournament magic at the latest possible hour, knocking off the sixth-seeded Friars 66-53 and adding some underdog fun to a day largely lacking drama.
Despite most everything working against them, perhaps the Flyers’ win shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Not when Dayton and head coach Archie Miller made a surprising run to the Elite Eight just a year ago. Not when the team fed off a home crowd in the First Four on Wednesday and could practically do the same in front of plenty of partisan supporters in Columbus against the Friars.
Ugly and devoid of offense for most of the first half, Friday’s affair suddenly became competitive after the break as both teams picked up their execution.
After shooting just 10 of 29 from the field and recording 10 turnovers in the first half, Providence fought back to tie the game at 33 several minutes into the second. But Dayton star Jordan Sibert responded with a three-pointer, setting the tone for the rest of the game. The Friars kept fighting and threatening to assert their control and Dayton kept answering. Dyshawn Pierre hit a three with 10:23 left to extend the Flyers’ lead to nine points, followed by Sibert hitting another several minutes later to end a four-minute scoring drought.
Pierre hit his third triple of the game with 4:34 left to put UD up 50-42. It felt like the dagger.
Making matters worse, Providence coach Ed Cooley landed a technical foul for flinging his chair during the ensuing timeout that seemed to end any hopes of a comeback for the Friars. A popular pick to make some noise in the East Region due in large part to the high-powered tandem of LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn, Cooley’s team was largely undone by that duo’s struggles. Henton went just 7 of 26 from the field, including 4 of 14 from deep, and Dunn shot 4 of 13 and turned it over seven times.
Pierre led all scorers with 20 points, and Sibert added 15. Dayton’s win sets up a meeting against Oklahoma on Sunday, with the Flyers looking to notch a second straight upset and advance to a regional for the second straight year.
Logic would hold their lack of depth and heavy log of minutes has to catch up to them, but the Columbus crowd ensured otherwise for at least one night.