By PAUL GOTHAM
Xeyrius Williams can add one to his growing list of basketball experiences.
In the closing moments of Dayton’s 61-57 loss to then No. 17 Saint Mary’s, the sophomore looked to cap a feverish rally when youthful enthusiasm intervened.
Teammate Kyle Davis used the sideline to cut off the dribble of Saint Mary’s Emmett Naar. A loose ball ensued deep in the Gaels’ end. Williams scooped up the pumpkin inside the three-point arc to the right of the basket and turned with intentions of knotting the game at 59.
“You just got to pick it up,” Dayton head coach Archie Miller said about the situation. “Any time you have a steal or a loose ball, the first thing you do is pick it up. Pick up the ball and just see.”
Williams put the ball to the floor. Saint Mary’s Joe Rahon alertly stepped in and drew a charge just outside the lane. Turnover Dayton with 15 seconds remaining.
“In his defense, he picked it up and a little bit of a fray, craziness,” Miller added. “He just put it down. Once you put the ball down at that point in time you’re going to be in a situation where you’re in traffic or what not. He did fine. That’s not the reason we lost the game.”
The sequence came at the end of a 13-1 run which saw the Flyers trim a 20-point deficit to two. Dave Jablonski captured the video here. A run in which UD forced seven turnovers not counting a previous play under the Gaels basket where Davis nearly stole a Saint Mary’s inbound pass only to deflect the ball out of bounds.
“We had some real scramble opportunities there at the end,” Miller noted. “We had some situations where they took the ball out and couldn’t get it in. We had some deflections. We just needed one of those things to go our way, and I think we could’ve gotten another basket.”
That Williams was even in the game at that point was something a month ago would have been unlikely. Since then a leg injury has slowed the return of senior forward Kendall Pollard. Last Tuesday, Josh Cunningham injured his ankle at the end of the Flyers victory over Alabama. Cunningham had surgery on Friday to repair a damaged ligament.
“You learn a lesson,” Miller stated. “The next time there’s a loose ball or steal you pick it up, chin it. Maybe move it to the next guy.”
Williams averaged less than 10 minutes a game last season. The Springfield, Ohio native has averaged 21 minutes through three games this season with Saturday’s 29 marking a career high.
“He’s just a sophomore,” senior captain Scoochie Smith said. “He’s never been in that situation before. It’s just a learning experience for him.”
It was a learning experience for everyone. Dayton, with a younger and smaller lineup on the floor, used a 1-2-2 (and even one possession of 2-1-2) three-quarter court press back into a zone.
“It’s the first time we’ve really had a chance to use it,” Miller said of the defense. “We haven’t really been able to practice it that much. This team’s going to have to create some more turnovers. This team’s small right now. We’re going to have to create more turnovers. Whether that’s extend the press or full-court press at the end, trapping in the half court. We have the ability we just haven’t been able to work on it as this group now that’s out there.”
The effect disrupted a Saint Mary’s offense which scored on eight of its first nine possessions of the game and led 19-11 less than 10 minutes into the contest.
“I wish if I could do it over again we gave our guys a lot more aggressiveness to start the game rather than keeping the ball in front and the middle of the floor,” Miller explained. “Their system understands how to play against that. Sort of like keeping it tight. I wish we would have been a little bit more scrambled.
“That’s something you learn in a game like this. Great thing about the evidence we have is it is not false. We played at Alabama on the road. Now we played a top 15 team at home. We know exactly what we have to do to play against the best teams. As this team prepares to play this season, we know exactly what’s standing out. What we got to get better at. That’s a good thing.”
The Flyers came out of the locker room at halftime and forced three turnovers and did not allow the Gaels to score in their first six possessions. UD’s offense, though, could not capitalize and cut into a 13-point deficit.
“We looked more of ourselves defensively rather than just being a sink and contain team and let them move around,” Miller commented. “When we were able to get those five or six stops right out of the second half, not being able to convert was a big killer in terms of the game. I thought it deflated us a little bit. Those first four or five possessions with stops. If you get a couple baskets that thing changes in a hurry.
“We’ll learn our lesson. I don’t know if anybody necessarily has all the answers against them (Saint Mary’s). They are pretty much able to do what they do offensively against about anybody they play. They’ve got great size, tremendous shooting. They basically play with two point guards out there zinging the ball around. We won’t be the only team that struggles with them. I would say that I just know in learning how to play with this group for one game, and how we did things. We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be.”
Dayton opens the Wooden Legacy against Nebraska on Thursday. An 8:30 pm tip time is scheduled.
“We have some time before we get to California,” Miller said. “Hopefully, we’ll be a little bit more diverse defensively than we have.”