Marcus Johnson led with 20 points.
Chris Wright and Chris Johnson added 14 points and nine rebounds apiece.
When it was over, Dayton’s Flyers defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 79-68 to take the 2010 NIT Championship.
Dayton beat North Carolina at their own game. The Flyers ran the floor at break-neck speed, opting more often than not for the first available shot as opposed to the best shot.
The result saw the Flyers compile 22 assists, many on their 11 three-pointers for the night. Chris Johnson hit two from behind the arc. Marcus Johnson added three, and Paul Williams came off the bench to drop four from long range.
The championship was Dayton’s first since their run in 1968 . In the process, the Atlantic 10 school downed teams from four “power conferences” and left fans wondering about what could have been.
After thumping Illinois State 63-42 to open the tournament, Dayton bounced Cincinnati (Big East) 81-66. The Flyers then eliminated Illinois (Big Ten) 77-71 and Mississippi (Southeastern) 68-63 before taking down the Tar Heels (Atlantic Coast).
A season that started with great promise ended with the Flyers earning the spot as the nation’s 66th team.
After beating West Virginia in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, Dayton looked poise for a deep run in this year’s tournament. The Flyers returned all five starters from that squad. Pre-season polls noted this and ranked the Flyers in the top twenty-five. Dayton earned the respect of its peers given the nod in October as the A-10’s top squad.
Along the way, Dayton stumbled through a 25-12 campaign and found themselves invited to the consolation tournament otherwise known as the NIT.
On the surface, Dayton’s ledger appears mediocre, but a closer inspection shows how small the margin of success can be.
Dayton’s 12 losses (all by single digits) amounted to a combined margin of 49 points or an average of 4.08 points per loss. By comparison, Duke’s margin of defeat in five losses this season totalled 51 points. Michigan State’s nine defeats amounted to 60 points. West Virginia lost seven games by 58 points.
More than half of Dayton’s losses came to NCAA Tournament teams. The Flyers fell at Villanova by six, to Kansas State by eight, at New Mexico by two, at Temple by two, at Richmond by four, and twice to their I-75 rival, Xavier, by four and five.
Three of Dayton’s remaining defeats came on the road.
The sum of those losses left the Flyers with a chestful of lessons.
Chris Wright, Chris Johnson, Paul Williams, and Devin Searcy all return next year. It will be a season full of opportunities for Coach Gregory and his Flyers to put into play the lessons learned from a season decided by the slightest of margins.