Kyle Davis nursed an injured hand, wrapped in ice, in the locker room at the Scottrade Center. He revealed he’s been battling a hand injury since December. A few steps away, Kendall Pollard sat silently with his sprained arm wrapped in ice. His injured leg was a whole other story.
The No. 7 seed Dayton Flyers exited the NCAA Tournament on Friday with a 70-51 loss to No. 10 Syracuse with more than their share of aches and pains — the byproduct of 33 games in four months — but the wounds of disappointment hurt worse. A team that stood 20-3 in mid-February lost five of its last nine games and played one of its worst games, or at least halves, at the worst time in the big dance.
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Syracuse (20-13) outscored Dayton 26-5 in the first 12 minutes of the second half, avenging a 55-53 loss in the second round of the 2014 tournament. Syracuse’s dominant performance will haunt the Flyers (25-8) until next season arrives in November. They reached the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, something the program hadn’t achieved since 1965-67, only to suffer their worst NCAA Tournament loss since 1965.
“I’m disappointed. I’m really down for our guys,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “The tournament’s harsh. We’ve experienced the highs. We’ve experienced the thrill. This is different for us.”
Here are five takeaways from this game:
1. Zone issues: Dayton led 14-8 after eight minutes and would have taken a lead into halftime if Charles Cooke had made a 3-pointer at the buzzer but trailed 30-28.
The Flyers fell apart in the opening minutes of the second half. They missed their first seven shots against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense. Pollard missed two free throws in the second minute of the half. On the next possession, Scoochie Smith made 1 of 3 free throws.
Syracuse pushed its lead to 14 points with under 14 minutes to play on back-to-back 3-pointers by Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson, who led the Orange with 21 points. The Flyers never recovered. They shot 29.6 percent from the field (8 of 27) in the second half and 12.5 percent (1 of 8) from 3-point range.
“I think somebody told me they charted us with 15 missed point-blank shots at the rim,” Miller said. “Give Syracuse credit. Their length, their size, finishing over top of those guys isn’t easy. They’re a defense-to-offense team, and they made some spontaneous 3s in the second half that broke the game open. For whatever reason, our offense deflated a little bit, and it took away our spirit at times. It took away the crowd’s spirit at times.
“It was just an awful performance from the standpoint of making the easy basketball plays.”
2. Rebounding edge: Syracuse out-rebounded Dayton 48-28. It was Dayton’s most lopsided rebounding margin of the season. Miller called that stat a disaster.
Tyler Roberson led Syracuse with 18 rebounds. Syracuse had 16 second-chance points to Dayton’s four.
“We struggled a little bit this year rebounding against everybody,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It’s not just one or two teams. And that was really the difference in the game, to not let them get second-chance opportunities.”
3. Better Orange: Syracuse committed 11 turnovers in the first half and four in the second half.
“We had to do something with that,” Boeheim said, “We were scoring, but we had too many turnovers. In the second half we eliminated that, and we had one run there where we had really good ball movement and got some good looks.”
4. McElvene’s performance: Every Dayton starter but Pollard played between 31 and 36 minutes. Darrell Davis missed all five of his shots off the bench. Steve McElvene had six points and six rebounds in 19 minutes but could have had more.
“I think Steve had some opportunities, especially early in the game with a couple of dunks,” Miller said. “He also probably had three to five offensive rebound opportunities that he didn’t either snatch up or put in the basket.”
5. Big picture: The Flyers return the entire roster in 2016-17 except for two seniors, Pierre and Bobby Wehrli. They will be one of the favorites in the Atlantic 10 race and will seek to become the first UD team to play in four straight NCAA tournaments.
“This is the time of year when you have to play your best,” Miller said. “When you’re not playing your best, it’s hard to beat anyone in this tournament, let alone a team like Syracuse. We’ll find a way to get back. Our player development in the offseason is going to be big. We’ve got to get some things going in terms of next year’s crew.
“We have to go back to the lab, so to speak, and figure out how we can get that chemistry back on offense and defense.”