When Dayton beats a school from one of the six power conferences, the media covering the vanquished team are often taken aback, wondering how a squad from the Atlantic 10 with its mid-major label could knock off one of the big boys.
The subject came up again after the Flyers put on a dominant display in winning at Alabama, 81-76, on Wednesday. UD coach Archie Miller was asked about his 7-3 record against the BCS in two seasons, and he responded by suggesting the college basketball world needs to have a greater appreciation for the caliber of play in the A-10.
“I wish we played in those (power) conferences because we’re not that good in our conference,” he said, drawing a laugh. “That’s the truth. I think everybody in our program, everybody in our fan base, everybody in our administration understands the word ‘BCS’ just means they have a football stadium. It has nothing to do with basketball.
“The Atlantic 10 is a bear of a league, and we have to prepare ourselves for the competition we have. If you beat an Alabama, great. But our whole focus is we prepare to compete in our league. We have to be better in our league. That’s what is going to take us to the next step.”
Miller did concede, though, his players seem to raise their game when facing those high-profile teams.
“At the end of the day, I do think guys in our program play with a chip on their shoulder when they meet up with an Alabama,” he said. “They weren’t recruited by them in so many cases. Sometimes you run into those programs, and (the players) have that edge. They’re ready to go.”
Senior point guard Kevin Dillard certainly played as if he had something to prove. He attended two summer camps for elite college players in the offseason with Alabama point guard Trevor Releford, and both were eager to face each other when it counted this season.
Final tally: Dillard, 25 points (a career high) and six assists. Releford, 13 points and three assists (and no baskets until the final four minutes).
“I just wanted to attack,” Dillard said. “The whole thing in my head was just attack. We’re on the road, we’re an underdog — attack. We had that mentality from the beginning. Everybody did. And we came out firing.”
Dillard also helped UD finish with a net gain against the Tide’s relentless full-court pressure, exploiting it for several easy baskets while limiting turnovers.
“He was ready tonight,” Miller said. “This is a big stage. He knew coming into the game, if he didn’t play well, we weren’t going to have a chance to win. And quite frankly, I thought he dominated he game. That’s what a great point guard does.”
After allowing only 58.1 points per game last season, the sixth-best figure in SEC history, the senior-less Tide were surrendering just 54.9 each outing this season. The 81 points by the Flyers were the most for a ‘Bama foe at Coleman Coliseum since Feb. 21 2009, the year before former UD star Anthony Grant took over as coach.
“We had a very difficult time containing them in whatever defense we were in,” said Grant, who led the Tide to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years last season. “Dillard dominated the first half. He was by far the best player on the floor. He’s a fifth-year senior.
“Vee Sanford, I thought, played very well (scoring 11 points), and he’s a fourth-year junior. Josh Benson (21 points), in the second half, really stepped up and provided what his team needed on the interior and running the floor and taking advantage of opportunities he had. He’s a senior.
“They have an understanding of what it takes to win at this level. As you become older as a player, you’ve kind of been there and done that. You get a grit about you, you get a toughness about you, you get an understanding that when you step between the lines, it’s for real. Our basketball team doesn’t understand that right now.”
The Flyers notched perhaps their first signature win of the season a week after a damaging 62-61 home loss to Weber State, which was the much more physical team and battered UD inside.
“That Weber State game, unfortunately, we learned the hard way, but it made us better,” Miller said. “It taught us toughness. The toughness level we have to play with for 40 minutes — from frontcourt players to freshmen to whoever you are, you have to get the job done. We learned a lesson in terms of accountability and what it really means to play college basketball. Hopefully, we can continue to move in that direction.”
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