By Paul Gotham
DAYTON, OH – One month ago people could have questioned the energy level of the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team.
That is no longer the case. UD’s Flyers responded to an early deficit Wednesday night with a spirited performance and continued their unbeaten month of February.
Matt Kavanaugh sparked a decisive first-half run, and Jordan Sibert made it stand as the Flyers (18-8/6-5) defeated La Salle’s Explorers (12-13/4-7), 65-53 in Atlantic 10 Conference play in front of 12,380 at UD Arena.
Kavanaugh netted eight points as Dayton erased a double-digit deficit and outscored La Salle 20-4 going into halftime.
After hitting just two of their first dozen shots, the Flyers came out of a timeout, and Devin Oliver sliced the La Salle 2-3 zone with a feed to Kavanaugh for a basket in the lane. It was the first of 13 straight for the home team.
“We missed some point blank shots,” UD Head Coach Archie Miller said of the early cold spell. “It’s an awkward feeling at home when you do that. It’s been that way kinda all year round. We don’t get off to fast starts. We got to figure a way out.”
Kavanaugh took a dish from Sibert on the next trip for two more. Scoochie Smith made a steal and went the length of the floor cutting the margin to four at 17-13.
“We were able to get our defense going,” Miller commented. “As the half continued to go, in particular the back eight minutes of the first half, our defense gave us some offense.”
La Salle took a timeout to slow UD’s momentum, but it didn’t work.
Oliver intercepted a pass on the next possession and went in for a layup. Sibert drilled his first three of the night and the Flyers had a lead they never surrendered at 18-17.
“Jordan had some timely shooting,” Miller noted.
Kavanaugh pushed the advantage to three with a reverse layup off a lead from Smith. Vee Sanford grabbed his own miss and hit a floater in the lane. Kavanaugh converted a pair from the free throw line, and Oliver completed an old-fashioned three-point as UD led 27-21 going into the half.
“We’re very fortunate to beat La Salle tonight,” Miller stated. “We didn’t really play offensively as well as we needed to in certain stretches. I thought they did a good job hanging tough.”
La Salle used a pair of 6-0 runs early in the second half to cut the margin to two.
After a pair of Sibert treys pushed the UD lead back to eight, Steve Zack hit a pair of free throws and finished a 3 on 2 break on the next trip with a dunk. Tyreek Duren grabbed a defensive rebound and went end-to-end for two. UD led 40-38.
The Flyers responded with four straight. Oliver landed a jumper from just outside the lane, and Kavanaugh hit jump hook from the baseline. The senior center scored 16 on 5 of 8 shooting.
“Matt Kavanaugh gave us a great presence,” Miller noted. “Especially in the second half.”
Sibert nailed another trifecta to push the lead to eight at 52-44, and La Salle never got any closer than five. The redshirt junior finished with a game-high 17 on 6 of 12 shooting including 5 of 8 behind the three-point arc.
“My coach and my teammates tell me to just shoot the ball,” Sibert said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open.”
UD outscored La Salle 32-26 in the paint and 22-9 off turnovers. Vee Sanford paced the UD bench as they outscored their counterparts, 13-5.
Oliver registered his third double-double of the season with 14 points, 12 rebounds and a game-high five assists.
“One of the best stat lines you can have,” Miller said of Oliver’s effort.
The win was the fifth straight for the Flyers who are coming off a seven-day break from games.
“We had a lot of energy this past week,” Miller said of UD’s work in practice. “It’s kinda been the theme of February.”
Dayton dropped four consecutive in January and five of six. With Wednesday’s win they move within a game of fifth place.
Wright paced La Salle with 15. Duren added 13. Zack corralled 10 boards.
The last time La Salle visited UD Arena was the First Four of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. La Salle defeated Boise State, 80-71 to open play and went on to the Sweet Sixteen. Six of the top seven players from that team have returned, but La Salle has dropped four in a row and seven of eight.
Dayton held La Salle to 35.4 percent (17 of 48) from the floor and just 21.4 (3 of 14) behind the arc.
La Salle travels to Richmond to take play the Spiders (18-8/7-4) on Saturday.
Dayton travels to Duquesne to battle the Dukes (11-14/3-9).