In a back-and-forth game from the tipoff that saw the score tied six times and lead change on 13 occasions, the Xavier Musketeers outlasted the Dayton Flyers 66-61 on Wednesday night.
It came down to the final minute and a little bit of luck for the Musketeers.
After a missed jumper by Dayton’s senior point guard Kevin Dillard with Xavier up 62-61, Travis Taylor brought in the rebound. The Flyers tried to force a turnover or 10-second violation, but Xavier was able to cross the timeline and get it to Taylor before Dayton fouled.
Taylor had a one-and-one opportunity, and missed the first. Jeff Robinson was able to get one of Xavier’s 20 offensive rebounds on the missed free throw, and got it to guard Dee Davis. Davis was fouled and had his own one-and-one opportunity.
Like Taylor though, Davis missed his free throw as well. Once again though, the Musketeers got the offensive rebound, with Davis bringing in his own miss.
Finally, Xavier knocked its free throws down, as Davis extended the lead to three points. The excitement wasn’t over yet.
After three timeouts, two by Dayton and one by Xavier, the Flyers were ready to inbound with only 13.4 remaining. Xavier was attempting to play a diamond zone, but guard Semaj Christon fell.
Davis thought because Christon falling, he was suppose to take Dillard, who received the inbounds play and was in Christon’s zone. Christon recovered to his feet, and both players went after Dillard.
Dillard kicked it out to forward Matt Derenbecker, who was 3-of-4 from deep on the night and shoots over 43 percent on the season, who was wide open.
“I don’t know how he got wide open,” said Davis.
Derenbecker pulled up and came inches from likely sending the game to overtime, as his three went in and out.
“I’m just glad he missed it,” Davis finished.
“Cintas magic,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack described the finale of the game afterwards, referring to Xavier’s home court, the Cintas Center.
Xavier needed to come up with a big win, coming into the night losing their last two in a row. In front of a sellout crowd of 10,250, they gave the fans plenty to cheer about.
In the 159th installment of this rivalry, Xavier battled and fought in the game, something Dayton didn’t seem ready for.
“We were outmuscled, out-toughed all night,” said Flyers head coach Archie Miller. “It’s unexplainable.”
The Flyers came into the night as the top rebounding team in the Atlantic 10. Xavier had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Flyers had total rebounds in the game (18). The Musketeers also had 42 points in the paint compared to Dayton’s 26, and Xavier was able to get 35 second-chance points in the game.
“I’m really proud of our guys’ effort,” said Mack. “It’s a game of toughness against Dayton.”
Miller wasn’t so complimentary of his team, saying “(we) didn’t earn the right to win tonight.”
The two teams struggled on the offensive end to begin the game before Xavier went on an 8-0 run after the under-12 timeout, taking the game from 6-6 to 14-6. The Flyers answered after the under-eight timeout, when they went on a 8-0 run of their own, fueled by three steals to give Dayton a 20-19 lead.
Dayton only made one field goal in the final four minutes of the half, which allowed Xavier to take a 31-27 lead into the break.
To start off the second half, Dayton quickly closed it to a 34-33 lead. Each team made brief runs until the 10:48 mark. Josh Benson made his first and only field goal of the game to cut it to a five-point deficit, and no team would hold more than a five-point lead the rest of the game.
It all came down to the end, and Xavier was prepared.
“Staying together on the court,” Xavier forward Jeff Robinson said about how the team could pull out close game. “We stayed together today.”
Derenbecker’s three was never even supposed to happen, according to Xavier players and coaches.
They said that they were supposed to foul at half court, which they determined to do after watching the Richmond and VCU game on January 24. The Rams eventually lost in overtime because the Spiders pushed it to OT when VCU didn’t foul them, and they were able to make a three-pointer to tie it up.
Despite the players being aware that they were supposed to foul, they still neglected to do so, which led to the opportunity for Derenbecker.
Dayton seniors Dillard and Benson combined for zero points in the first half. While Benson continued to struggle in the second half, Dillard took over, scoring 12 points in the final 20 minutes. Vee Sanford led the Flyers in scoring, shooting 8-of-13 for 16 points.
Davis won MVP honors in the game. Davis scored 14 points (the team high), while shooting 4-of-6 from the floor with three assists and two rebounds. Taylor nearly had a double-double, scoring eight points while pulling in 11 boards.
In what Mack described as a special moment for the program, Joe Hughes presented the MVP trophy to Davis. Hughes, a former Musketeer, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma less than a week ago.
Mack talked about how Hughes remains close to the program, “occasionally sneaking into our workout room,” and knows all the current players well.
Xavier heads back onto the road to play to face the Richmond Spiders on Saturday, February 2. Dayton will also be playing on the road Saturday, as the Flyers take on the Saint Louis Billikens.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.