Dillard drives UD past Alabama

The Dayton senior point guard scored 17 of his 25 points in the opening 20 minutes to lead the Flyers to an 81-76 road upset of Alabama on Wednesday. Dillard had scored just 31 total points in the first half of the opening seven games.

“Obviously, it was a very good win for our team,” UD coach Archie Miller said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for Alabama. I’ve got a lot of respect for coach (Anthony) Grant, knowing what he’s done for our program. To come down here and play them, they’re a very good team. They’re going to win a lot of games.

“We tried to come in aggressive. I thought Kevin was fabulous the way he started the game. He gave us all confidence, and it kind of carried over to everyone. This is the type of environment where you have to have some play-makers who aren’t afraid, and we had a number of guys step up in big moments — whether it was Benson or the freshmen. It was a good team effort.”

He also had six assists and just three turnovers despite facing full-court pressure through most of the game.

Senior forward Josh Benson had 21 points and six rebounds while playing against the Crimson Tide’s superior size. Junior guard Vee Sanford added 11 points.

The Flyers (6-2), exploiting Alabama’s 94-foot pressure for several easy baskets, took a 64-50 lead on a short jumper freshman Dyshawn Pierre with 9:30 to go. They pushed the lead to 15 on Dillard’s fastbreak basket.

The Tide (6-2) narrowed the gap to 76-71 on a three-point play by Devonta Pollard with 45 seconds to go. Benson made one of two foul shots, and the Tide couldn’t get any closer after that.

UD, which was a 10-point underdog, is 3-1 against schools from the six power conferences this season and 17-6 in the last six years.

The Flyers built an early 11-point lead, fell behind by one and then closed the first half on an 8-2 surge for a 38-33 lead.

The Flyers were hurting when junior wing Devin Oliver picked up his second foul with 11:39 to go in the first half and took a seat until the second half. UD led 20-11 after Trevor Releford made two free throws on Oliver’s hack. The Flyers lost their lead but recovered to build a five-point advantage at halftime.

UD had three freshmen — Jalen Robinson, Khari Price and Pierre — on the floor together at times.

The Crimson Tide, who were shooting only 63.7 percent from the foul line, made their first 12 free throws before forward Nick Jacobs missed a pair late in the first half. They finished 29-of-32.

“I’ve got to give all the credit to Dayton tonight,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “They came out right from the jump and set the tone of the game. From a defensive standpoint, we had no answers for what they wanted to do whether it was in the press, in transition, offensive glass, zone — they were the more prepared team today. And obviously, as the coach, it’s my responsibility to make sure our guys understand the approach we need to take.

“It’s a tough loss for us. But it’s a learning opportunity for our guys to understand the approach we have to have every game. … We have to understand what it takes to compete and win against a team the caliber of Dayton.”

The Flyers started 8-for-14 from the field and finished 26-of-53

The Crimson Tide may have been seething after being upset at UD last year, but they didn’t come out with much fire. The Flyers bolted to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:17, forcing ‘Bama coach Anthony Grant to burn an early timeout.

“I don’t think anyone is going to score 81 points on Alabama in a very long time after this game,” Miller said. “It’s attributed to a great point guard (in Dillard). He has his ups and downs, but I really thought he was ready to meet the challenge.

“They’re a very tough cover. They play four guards and showed they can hit the 3. Fortunately, we have a small lineup that we like to play. They shot 32 free throws in the game. They’re a tough dribbling-driving team. I thought in general as the game progressed we were able to keep bodies in front of people, and at least the shots were more contested in an around the basket and challenged jump shots.

“I give our kids credit. We knew we were going to have to take some punches. We stuck together and weathered it a little bit.”

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