Elvis has not left the building. The King has nothing on the Dayton Flyers.
They turned Buffalo into Dayton North and now have made a home on the banks of the Mississippi, not far from Graceland, where hundreds of the Flyer Faithful will flock in the next two days as they bask in the glory of a run to the Elite Eight.
No. 11 seed Dayton played one of its best games of the season on the biggest stage Thursday, running away from No. 10 seed Stanford in the second half to win 82-72 in the Sweet 16 at FedExForum.
The Flyers (26-10), one victory from the second Final Four in school history and first since 1967, play No. 1 seed Florida on Saturday in the South Regional championship. The Gators beat No. 4 seed UCLA 79-68 in Thursday’s other semifinal here.
“Honestly, the Elite Eight was never a thought,” sophomore forward Devon Scott said, “but now that we’re here, it’s something we’re definitely ready for.”
The Flyers walked off the court, holding up their hands and acknowledging the large group of Flyer fans. They were everywhere. Earlier in the day, a quick look at famed Beale Street, which is lined with bars and restaurants a block from the arena, would give you the impression that the only fans here in Memphis were Flyer fans.
That homecourt edge paid off because the Flyers played as if they were back home at UD Arena. They shot 48 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range, committed 10 turnovers, trailed once — and by only one point — and pulled away from Stanford in the final minutes.
Twelve Flyers saw action. Eleven scored. Jordan Sibert led the way with 18 points, but Kendall Pollard came out of nowhere with the best game of his freshman season, scoring a career-high 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“It’s a big-time performance from a true freshman playing on this stage,” sophomore point guard Khari Price said. “He’s always been a confident guy. He’s confident in what he can do. He just showed the world what he can do.”
It was the quintessential Dayton victory in every way. The Flyers got to this stage by playing this way, and they’re not going to change now.
“It’s really special for this team, for a group of guys who have been at the bottom, to come all the way to the top,” senior forward Devin Oliver said. “It’s been a great run. We’re not done yet. I’m just happy for the community and the fans.”
Oliver also scored 12 points. Matt Kavanaugh had 10. Scott and Dyshawn Pierre each scored six points.
Dayton led 42-32 at halftime and stretched its lead to 47-36 early in the second half before Stanford made a run, cutting the deficit to 47-43 at the 15:51 mark. The Cardinal never got closer than four points.
A 3-point play by Scott at the 7:54 mark stopped Stanford’s last push. The Cardinal had just cut the lead to 64-58. Dayton quickly pushed the lead to 11. Stanford didn’t score for a four-minute stretch after a 3-pointer by Josh Huestis with six minutes remaining.
“They made some big shots,” Scott said, “but we always made sure we matched that at least or came back with a big stop on the next possession. We tried to make sure we suppressed the bleeding a little bit.”