With a who’s who of alumni sitting in the stands, the Stanford Cardinal were set to make the Elite 8 by bullying the Dayton Flyers with their superior size and strength. Pundits were wondering if Dayton had an answer for Stefan Nastic and Dwight Powell, the twin towers down low for the Cardinal.
Richard Sherman and Condoleezza Rice headlined the Cardinal contingent on hand in Memphis to see Johnny Dawkins‘ squad take that monumental next step as a program. During warmups, the cameras were all over the Sherman/Rice duo, and the announcers marveled at the long, distinguished list of Stanford graduates in politics and athletics.
Somebody forgot to tell Dayton to be impressed. Despite the size disadvantage and lack of star power in the bleachers, the Flyers used their quickness and athleticism to overcome it all and dominate Stanford 82-72. Mirroring coach Archie Miller‘s tenacity, the ferocious Flyers went head-first into the Cardinal defense all game long and never trailed after the first half.
Dayton set the tone quickly, as Jordan Sibert came out firing from 3-point range and slashing into the lane. Sibert went to the rim on Stanford’s bigs and showed no fear, drawing the defense into the paint and getting fouls or kicking out to open perimeter shooters. Stanford must have forgotten the scouting report on Dayton: these guys can shoot. The Flyers shot 48 percent from the field and went to the free throw line 26 times, making 69 percent of them.
Sibert’s fearless play inspired the rest of the Flyers, literally. Miller played 12 players in the game, and all but one Flyer scored a basket. Sibert netted 18 to lead the Flyers. Kendall Pollard had a huge game off the bench, netting 12 points and keeping the Stanford zone off balance every time he touched the ball. Devin Oliver and Matt Kavanaugh more than held their own against the Cardinal frontcourt. Both scored in double figures and were able to limit the offensive damage that Nastic and Powell were able to do.
This game boiled down to pure aggression. Dayton played this game with abandon and overcame its perceived shortcomings by fighting for every possession. Stanford had 12 costly turnovers and did not win the rebounding battle over the smaller Dayton lineup. Nastic and Powell stayed in foul trouble because the speedy Flyer guards were bringing the ball inside the zone, causing them to collapse and putting them out of position.
Miller has to be thoroughly pleased with the total team effort, the effectiveness shown on the offensive end and the gritty defense exhibited by his upstart squad. They are a bunch of transfers and forgotten players who are shocking the world one game at a time. This is a run that creates legends and stories that live on forever.
This has been the story of Dayton throughout March Madness. They have faced the bluebloods of the college basketball universe and have not backed down. The Flyers sent Ohio State and Syracuse packing in the same fashion, and if they maintain this mentality along with hot shooting, the country will see a no. 11 seed make the Final Four.