Dayton coach Archie Miller knew the Flyers’ first Atlantic 10 foe was fast and skilled and would look like one of the elite teams in the nation — especially playing before a lively sellout crowd.
But while no one in the A-10 has stockpiled as many premier athletes as 24th-ranked VCU, Miller has a message for his players: It’s not going to get much easier the rest of the way.
The Flyers lost, 74-62, on Wednesday after withering like a freshly planted shrub under the baking sun. They had 26 turnovers — their most since committing 27 in a loss at Creighton in 2005 — with many of them coming against half-court traps when they weren’t strong enough with the ball to escape.
But UD (10-5) hosts Butler (13-2) on Saturday and then goes to La Salle (10-4) next week in perhaps the most difficult opening three-game stretch for any team in the league.
“They’re all going to be tough,” Miller said. “That’s one of the things people are excited about in the new league this year. But I’ll also tell you this: Each and every time out, you’re going to play someone whose aspirations are the same as yours. Everyone right now is fighting (for the postseason).
“The big thing is, you have to lock in on keeping it day to day, not getting too high or low. If we didn’t get the job done, we’ll figure out why. If we did get the job done, it’s the same. You can’t ride that emotional roller-coaster where, ‘Wow, we lost to VCU. We’ve got Butler. What a huge game.’ They’re all big.”
The 14th-ranked Bulldogs were the only A-10 road team to win its conference opener Wednesday. They beat preseason favorite St. Joe’s, 72-66, as 3-point ace Rotnei Clarke had 28 points and center Andrew Smith 24. UD is expecting about 13,000 for the game.
“We’re going to prepare for a heck of an environment,” Miller said. “Let’s hope our arena can help us like VCU’s helped them.”
The Flyers, however, we’ll need to find a cure for their fumble-itis. Although senior point guard guard Kevin Dillard, a preseason first team All-Atlantic 10 pick, had a team-high 17 points, he also committed seven turnovers while notching just one assist. But he didn’t get much support.
“It’s up to us to see how we can help him in a game like that,” Miller said.
But despite the defeat, Miller was pleased with how his team stayed in attack mode. VCU coach Shaka Smart even marveled at the spike in intensity compared to non-league games.
“We played against a top-25 team in their place in their inaugural (conference) game — an emotional game against a good team,” Miller said. “Let’s take a page from that and say, ‘You know what, let’s be better for it.’ I know this: We’re not afraid and we will compete. And that’s half the battle.”