By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY — Thirty years have passed since the University of Dayton Flyers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. For the Flyers to end that drought, they will need to overcome a program familiar with this spot.
The No. 11 seed Flyers (24-10) take the court Saturday against No. 3 seed Syracuse Orange (28-5) in NCAA Tournament third round action at the First Niagara Center. UD looks to put together NCAA Tournament wins in one year for the first time since 1984. Syracuse appeared in the 2013 Final Four and have made 18 Sweet Sixteen runs including 13 since 1984.
Third-year coach Archie Miller knows the task ahead when it comes to Syracuse and their 2-3 zone defense.
“Obviously, the size and the length and the zone can consume you if you let it,” Miller said. “It’s a typical Syracuse team. They’re very good, and they’re very big. You’re going to have to be organized. They thrive on the steals. They thrive on the defense creating offense…We have our work cut out for us.”
C.J. Fair paces the Orange with 16.6 points while grabbing 6.3 boards. Freshman Tyler Ennis adds 12.6 with 5.8 assists and an assist to turnover rate of 3.3. Jerami Grant scores 12.3 and corrals 6.8 rebounds. Trevor Cooney scores 12.3 including a team-leading 90 3-pointers.
“They’re big. They’re really, really well coached and good,” Miller added. “Offensively they have a lot of guys individually they can isolate on you, really talented.”
Jordan Sibert nets 12.3 a game for a Dayton team which has four players who score nine or more and eleven different Flyers have posted double-digit performances this season.
Vee Sanford, who hit the game winner in Dayton’s second round victory over Ohio State, drops 9.9 off the bench for UD. The redshirt senior transfer from Georgetown knows well of Syracuse and their 2-3 zone defense.
“They’re really good, a long team in the zone. You can’t slack off. They like to get it out, the whole roster is pretty good.”
UD and Syracuse came within a missed tip-in of meeting at the Maui Invitational earlier this year. Trailing Baylor by one Sanford’s jumper missed and teammate Devin Oliver‘s putback attempt rimmed out. Dayton fell 67-66. Syracuse downed Baylor in the final, 74-67.
UD goes nine deep on the bench, scores 73 a game and holds opponents to 67.4 points. Seven Orange play 13 or more minutes and contribute to 68.4 points while holding opposing scorers to 59.8 points a game.
“Our depth has been basically a quest to keep our team together,” Miller said. “The camaraderie we have is a big deal. It’s why we’ve gotten to this point is because our guys like one another. They’re together. They’re tough. We have good camaraderie.”
Being a Sal Maglie toss across the water from Canada (or at least the pride of Niagara Falls would hit Canadian waters) the First Niagara Center proudly boasts the red and white in the rafters and honors our neighbor with the playing of the national anthem. It holds special meaning today as Ontario’s own Dyshawn Pierre (Dayton) and Ennis will square off. The two were AAU teammates in high school. Tyler’s brother (Dylan) will suit up for Villanova in the second game in Buffalo. North of the Border is well represented in third round action with Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) and Brady Heslip (Baylor) still in action.
Roosevelt Chapman led the ’84 Flyers to the Regional Finals. Dayton beat LSU (74-66), Oklahoma (89-85) and Washington (64-58) before falling to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown (61-49).