Dayton and Miami will be meeting for the130th time today in a series that started in 1909, but the future of the rivalry seemed in doubt after new RedHawks coach John Cooper said during the summer he couldn’t guarantee the teams would keep playing on a regular basis.
Previous coach Charlie Coles had a philosophy of playing anyone anywhere, but that left Miami with few non-league home games. Cooper indicated he wanted to play more often at Millett Hall, and Brad Bates, the school’s athletic director before leaving for Boston College in October, supported Cooper and said the annual games with UD, Wright State, Xavier and Cincinnati were in danger.
The RedHawks dropped Xavier and UC this year, and they don’t have a contract with UD or Wright State beyond this season. But Cooper was adamant this week that he wanted to keep playing the Flyers.
“It’s been a great series. Of course we want to play them,” he said. “They’ve had their share of wins, and we’ve had some too. But no, by no stretch would we not want to play them. They’re right up the road. It’s been good for us, and, hopefully, it’s been good for them, too.
“I think this is the end (of the agreement between the teams). But the contract’s been renewed every year for I don’t know how long. There’s no such thing as a 100-year contact. So, typically, you’re either going to two-year deals or four-year deals. We would like to renew it.”
The Flyers are choosey about the teams they’ll play in a home-and-away series, preferring to find foes who are regular contenders for postseason spots. But Miller is open to continuing the series with Miami.
“Obviously, whenever you have an Ohio rivalry, it’s a sensitive thing. I think both schools moving forward would love to reconnect. If not, they’re both doing what’s best for themselves to move forward, whatever that is,” he said.
“I know Xavier discontinued their series with them, from what I heard. I know right now as we’re scheduling more games, there could be a year off maybe. But we haven’t discussed anything, and there has been no dialogue with our administration or theirs.”
The Flyers don’t have fond memories of last year’s clash with Miami. Playing just their second outing under Miller, they were still trying to learn a new system, and Miami ended a five-game losing streak in the series with a 72-67 overtime win at Millett Hall.
But the Flyers are riding a wave of confidence after shocking Alabama on the road, 81-76, before a crowd of 11,460 Wednesday. Point guard Kevin Dillard scored 25 points, out-playing All-SEC point guard Trevor Releford in their head-to-head match-up, and forward Josh Benson had 21. UD finished with a commanding 37-28 edge in rebounds.
“It shows us who we are if we can stay consistent and keep our focus throughout the (game),” Benson said. “We can be a really good team.”
Dillard added: “We can build on it for sure. We can look at that game and see all the things we can do. We know we can play for 40 minutes and can withstand runs and get through any adversity if we just stay together.”
Miller, though, has been troubled by a malaise that’s taken over the Flyers at home. They typically have done their best work at UD Arena over the years, but they’ve been playing better so far this season on the road.
After returning from the Charleston Classic with a satisfying 2-1 record in the event, they barely slipped by Manhattan, lost by one to Weber State and were out-scored in the second half by woeful Northern Illinois.
“For whatever reason, I’m concerned because we don’t have the same vibe at home. I don’t know what that is,” Miller said. “I just don’t think we start like we do on the road. Even in Charleston, (the mentality was) it’s the world against you. At home, it’s so comfy. We have to use home base as a starter for us. That’s going to be a big thing as we move into the Miami game.
“I think a lot of it is guys hoping to play well in front of their families. We go to the free throw line in Charleston and on the road, and we’re making clutch free throws in the game. And we’re going 6-for-17 in UD Arena. For me right now, it’s a fog, and we’ve got to get out of that.”