The Dayton Flyers have gone from being a bubble team on Selection Sunday to the Sweet 16 in the matter of a week after a hard-fought 55-53 victory over the Syracuse Orange at Buffalo's First Niagara Center Saturday.
Down by two points with seven seconds left after Flyers forward Dyshawn Pierre split a pair of free throws, Syracuse elected to go for the win, as Tyler Ennis pulled up for a three-pointer from the right side of the floor, but his shot hit off back iron as time expired.
"It's unexplainable, man, especially for me," said Dayton's Devin Oliver. "I had a coaching change early on in my college career. Coach (Archie) Miller came, and it's been a process. Last year was a little bit more of a down year. To come back this year, my senior year, with this group of guys, to be able to get to the Sweet 16, it's unexplainable. (I'm) just really happy for this group of guys."
With wins over the third-seeded Orange and sixth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, Dayton, the No. 11 seed in the South Region, advances to next week's regional semifinals, which will be played at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
Dayton is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years, and seventh time in school history.
"Syracuse is a heck of a team," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "It was a great environment. We're fortunate, but just proud to be here, sitting here in the winning circle."
After they built a six-point lead, 32-26, when guard Khari Price buried a three-pointer with 12:57 to play in regulation, the Flyers went cold offensively.
Syracuse was able to chip away at the deficit and went ahead, 40-37, when Ennis hit a layup at the 7:51 mark of the half. However, the Flyers stormed back and again took a four-point lead, 44-40, when guard Scoochie Smith knocked down a three-pointer with 5:33 to play.
Despite four missed shots and a late turnover, the Flyers never trailed after taking back the lead.
The Flyers jumped out to an 11-4 lead over the first nine minutes of play and carried a 20-18 advantage into halftime because they turned Syracuse mistakes into points. In the first three minutes of play, Syracuse forward Rakeem Christmas committed two turnovers that directly led to points for the Flyers.
On Syracuse's opening possession, he turned it over and Price responded with a three-pointer. Christmas' second turnover led to center Matt Kavanaugh's layup with 17:22 to play in the first half.
Dayton continued the defensive effort when reserve forward Kendell Pollard stole the ball and passed to Smith, who then assisted on guard Vee Sanford's jumper, which forced Syracuse to burn a timeout to quell the 11-4 run.
In addition to forcing six turnovers, the Flyers limited the Orange to only seven made baskets in the first half. Syracuse made just seven of 23 attempts, and missed all five of its three-point attempts.
After the quick start, Dayton struggled on the offensive end in the first half.
The Flyers went eight of 23 from the floor, one of five from three-point range and three of six at the free-throw line. Also, they committed one more turnover, seven, than the Orange, but held a 19-16 edge in rebounds.
"You're playing against a great team," Miller said. "You're playing against one of the best teams in the country, and to play them in Buffalo, to expect to push ahead, so to speak, it's not really going through your head.
"(We were) battling every possession defensively. Watching our kids compete, giving ourselves a chance to be there, at the end of the game, we wanted to be right where we were, which was we had a chance to win the game."