By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY — Jordan Sibert and Matt Kavanaugh ran to the front of the section 118 and acknowledged the Flyer Faithful. Devin Oliver fell to the floor. The University of Dayton advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
In front of a predominantly Syracuse Orange crowd, Dayton ended a three-decade Sweet Sixteen drought.
Dyshawn Pierre converted three free throws in the final minute as Dayton’s Flyers defeated the Syracuse Orange 55-53 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region at the First Niagara Center.
Pierre, who knocked down three crucial free throws in Thursday’s second round win over Ohio State University, sealed the victory for Dayton again Saturday night.
“Just trying to make sure I came through for our team,” Pierre said of the pressure shots. “I’m happy I was able to knock them down.”
The sophomore forward netted a team-high 14 including bookends during a pivotal 10-2 run late in the second half.
Trailing by three Scoochie Smith led Pierre to the basket for two. By the time Pierre drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer the Flyers had a lead they never surrendered at 47-42 with 4:41 left on the clock. Pierre’s three came at the end of a dynamic possession which saw the Flyers move the ball in and out and around the extended Syracuse 2-3 zone before Jordan Sibert fed Pierre in the left corner.
“The feel of the game against Syracuse is a different feel,” Dayton coach Archie Miller stated. “Nothing is normal. No rhythm shots, not the amount of reps that you’ve had in practice. Nothing feels the same. So we spent a lot of time just talking to our guys about I’d rather have a shot clock violation than a turnover. We’d rather work the clock the best we could to see if we could get it to the paint as much as possible. And patience was talked about. You’re going to have to earn the right to score on them, and it’s very difficult to do.”
Syracuse had two chances late in the game, but a pair of Tyler Ennis jump shots glanced off the rim. The final shot, a three-point attempt from the top of the key looked good while in the air.
“That thing was on line, and he went for the win,” Miller said. “The thing that went through my head was the game at Pitt, when I saw that highlight on SportsCenter 7,000 times when he banged the three on Pitt. Similar situation. You don’t have any timeouts you’re trying to get organized.”
Ennis finished with a game-high 19 on 7 of 21 shooting.
“The last shot was a great shot,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim commented. “That was the right play, a chance to win the game. You don’t have enough time to get to the basket.”
Ennis scored 10 points in the game’s final 3:35, eight of which came on drives in the paint and two from the free throw line. But the freshman settled for a mid-range jump shot on the game’s second to last possession and a 3-point to end the game.
“With 13 seconds to go, we wanted to get it to Tyler and drive the ball,” Boeheim continued. “We’d just driven the ball for three baskets, and I don’t know why he settled for the jump shot. There was plenty of time. He had space. I’m not sure why.”
“Devin (Oliver) did a good job eliminating the driving lane, and I thought he challenged the 16‑foot pullup,” Miller said. “Then we got the rebound. That was a big play.”
The Orange finished 0 for 10 from long range on the night.
After Sibert gave UD a 35-30 with a catch-and-shoot trey, the Orange rattled off six straight to take the lead.
“I thought we had a tremendous defensive effort,” Boeheim said. “When we were down late, I thought we made a tremendous effort to get back in it. We had a couple of good shots. They didn’t go in. This is a tough loss, as they all are this time of the year.”
Pierre and Vee Sanford paced the Flyers in the first half.
Pierre scored six as Dayton’s Flyers jumped to an 11-4 lead with 11:37 to go in the half. The sophomore forward converted a pair of rebound and putback situations and got credit for two on a goaltending call.
Khari Price started the scoring nailing a pull-up 3-pointer late in the shot clock.
Fair scored on a runner in the lane. The pre-season Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year connected on five of six free throws and gave Syracuse its only lead of the first stanza at 17-16 with 2:47 on the clock.
Sanford hit a pair of jumpers late in the closing minutes for Dayton’s 20-18 edge going into the locker room.
Dayton hit 7 of 16 behind the arc.
Dayton outrebounded Syracuse 35-31.
Sibert added 10 for Dayton.
Fair notched a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Syracuse outscored Dayton in the paint 40-18.
Syracuse had four assists on 21 made field goals.
Dayton’s bench got the better of their counterparts, 14-8.
Dayton advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1984. That season Roosevelt Chapman led UD to the Regional Finals.
Dayton will play the winner of Kansas – Stanford.