In yet another bracket-buster in a tournament brimming with them, the March Madness upsets continued, as No. 11 seed Dayton stunned third-seeded Syracuse 55-53 in the third round yesterday to advance to the coveted Sweet. Dayton now joins Mercer, Tennessee, Stanford, and Stephen F Austin as the last remaining double-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament after narrowly advancing to the field of 64.
The Flyers are a team rich with March Madness tournament history. This is the school’s fifteenth appearance, with their best result coming in 1967 when they lost to UCLA in the National Championship game. Although the last time was 30 years ago, they have reached the sweet 16 three other times and the Elite 8 once. Head coach Archie Miller is hoping his first postseason at the helm will go far beyond the program’s fourth Sweet 16 appearance. The 35-year-old second-year man said he knew his team’s best chance to win was to hang around and be in it at the end. And they were, despite watching Syracuse erase a seven-point advantage and take the lead with two minutes and change left in the game.
Luckily for Dayton, the Orange’s playmakers, Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair, went cold late. Fair missed his last three shots with under five minutes remaining, including one from point-blank range. Ennis missed the mark all night, finishing 7 of 21 from the field, but it did little to discourage him from pulling the trigger. Down two with seven seconds left on the clock, Ennis took the in-bound pass and weaved his way to NBA three-point territory and, just as he had done to beat Pittsburgh a month ago, hoisted a carbon copy 40-footer that looked destined to find the bottom of the net. Instead, it hit the back of the rim and wiped away a dream season with a 25-0 start, allowing the March Madness upsets to continue with Dayton stunning Syracuse.
Dayton’s dream season, however, is now in its third phase. The Flyers appeared to have their bubble burst with their 70-67 loss to St. Joe’s in the Atlantic 10 championship game, but their 10-6 fourth-place conference finish was trumped by a strong non-conference showing that included wins over Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, Cal and Ole Miss. Dayton now awaits the winner of Kansas vs. Stanford in Sunday’s third round, so the underdog moniker will remain intact and the March Madness upsets could continue.
The Flyers weathered the storm against Syracuse, namely a dismal stretch in the second half in which they went 2 of 14. But just as things went against Ohio State in Dayton’s second round game, they were still inches away from the opposite result and needed Ennis’s prayer, just like Aaron Craft’s, to fall short, allowing the March Madness upsets to continue with Dayton Stunning Syracuse. Now the focus shifts to the Sweet 16 and a probable matchup with one of the tourney’s more talented teams in no. 2 seed Kansas. Not a bad matchup until the return of Joel Embiid is considered. Dayton does have length with 6-10 senior C Matt Cavanaugh and an athletic swing-man in 6-6 sophomore F Dyshawn Peirre, but don’t look to have the firepower to hang with one of the nation’s most potent offenses and extend their improbable March Madness run. The Flyers have been under the gun all season, though, and still sit on the brink of the Elite 8.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat