A photo of a dismayed Devin Oliver hovered over the headline “Heartbreak again” in this newspaper on Jan. 30. Just when the Dayton Flyers thought they had hit rock bottom with a terrible performance at Rhode Island, they came home to lose on a buzzer-beater to Saint Joseph’s.
That defeat made it four losses in a row, five in six games and one of the worst Januaries in recent memories. It’s easy to forget with the Flyers on top of the world this week, celebrating their first NCAA tournament appearance in five years, just how far they fell with that slump midway through the season.
“It’s getting to the point where I don’t even know what to say anymore,” said the Dayton senior Oliver after the loss to Saint Joe’s. “I don’t know how that continually happens to us. What can you do? We’ve got another game on Saturday. It’s not like the season stops.”
The season certainly didn’t stop. The Dayton Flyers (23-10) have lost twice since, both times to Saint Joseph’s, and they recorded victories over two of the top teams in Atlantic 10, Massachusetts and Saint Louis, in back-to-back games to start March. Those two wins, more than any others in the second half of the season, got the No. 11 seed Flyers to the tournament and their date at 12:15 p.m. Thursday with No. 6 seed Ohio State at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
It wasn’t so much that the Flyers turned their season around as they got it back on track. After all, they were just as good in the first two months of the season — with a couple of exceptions — as they were in the last six weeks.
From a numbers standpoint, here’s how the Dayton Flyers did it.
• In their five Atlantic 10 losses in January, Dayton averaged 15 turnovers per game. In the 12 games since, they have twice committed 15 turnovers but never more than that and have averaged 10.7.
Another way of illustrating just how much better the Flyers have been in protecting the basketball is by looking at their turnover percentage (turnovers divided by possessions). In all five of those losses, they topped 20 percent. Only twice in the 12 games since have they done that, and they won both those games, against Saint Louis and Duquesne.
• The Flyers gave up 73.6 points per game during those five losses, six more than their season average, and have allowed 70 points or less nine times in the last 12 games.
In coach Archie Miller’s mind, Dayton’s improvement goes beyond the numbers.
“We have good kids,” Miller said. ” Even when we weren’t doing really well, we still had a good way about us. The thing we’ve been able to do over the last month and a half or so is we’ve been able to be great every day. We haven’t had very many bad days.
“I’m not talking about game day. I’m talking about the hour and 15 we take the floor (for practice). Improving. Just having a mentality about us, being positive, having a bounce, togetherness. We have a lot of guys playing in the games, which helps. There’s great camaraderie around these guys.”
Dayton vs. Ohio State, 12:15 p.m. Thursday, WHIO Ch. 7, 1290, 95.7