When Dayton grabbed a brief second-half lead against Butler in the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Bulldogs hit three successive 3-pointers to gain control, prompting UD coach Archie Miller to rightfully say afterward, “The game was won and lost at the 3-point line.”
Miller became more accustomed than he would have liked at analyzing defeats this season. The Flyers lost every way imaginable — either giving up too many offensive rebounds or committing excessive turnovers, surrendering buzzer-beaters or not executing last-second plays, getting exposed on defense or perhaps just being a little too short at times on talent.
Their biggest issue, though, was not having the experience or moxie to close out tight games.
They finished with a 17-14 record, their worst mark since going 14-17 in 2005-06. They were 3-9 in games decided by six points or fewer, including a 73-67 loss to Butler on Thursday.
They had seven losses by a combined 11 points.
During their last NCAA tournament trip in 2008-09, they went 12-1 in games where the final margin was six points or fewer.
“The No. 1 thing that jumps out at me is our inability to finish,” Miller said. “There’s so many games, just off the top of my head — you always remember them — with the woulda-shoulda-couldas. Why weren’t we able to improve in the finishing area?
“In a season like this, you don’t need a 10-game difference. Two wins is a big difference. Three wins is a big difference. But I would say early on I’m very, very surprised how long it took us to figure out how to play with one another. After we figured that out a little bit, when things came together, we had the ability to beat anyone we played.”
Miller knows there is much grumbling in Flyer land with the way the season unfolded. The team was dealt a blow in the preseason when starting center Matt Kavanaugh was suspended for the year, which hampered the frontline rotation. And it was stuck with just two healthy scholarship guards during a pivotal chunk of games when freshman Khari Price was injured.
But the Flyers averaged 23.4 wins in the previous five seasons while reaching either the NCAA tourney or NIT. And Miller understands the fans’ frustration.
“I’m right there with them. There’s nobody making any excuses,” he said. “This team was dealt a lot of unorthodox blows early on with sickness, injuries, departures, however you want to look at it, but we rallied, and the character of some of these guys in getting up off the mat, well, that’s something they’re going to have to do because that’s the way we’re built as a staff.
“I wouldn’t change our system. I love the way we play. … I just think going forward, it’s going to start and stop with recruiting for us.”
Three Flyer freshmen — Price and forwards Dyshawn Pierre and Jalen Robinson — finished among the top seven on the team in average minutes played, while another, Devon Scott, started the last 10 games.
Miller also has high hopes for Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert, a 6-foot-4 guard who will be eligible next season, along with a ballyhooed three-player recruiting class of 6-5 forward Kendall Pollard, 6-2 guard Dayshon Smith and 6-0 guard Kyle Davis.
“Those four freshmen, I couldn’t be prouder of having a recruiting class come in and contribute the way they contributed,” Miller said. “Now, moving into their sophomore year, this is the jump I’m looking forward to getting them to.”
The Flyers shot 47.5 percent from the field, their best mark in 24 years. They also set a program record by hitting 38.4 percent on 3-pointers (which was introduced in 1987).
But UD under Miller has been the antithesis of the teams coached by his predecessor, Brian Gregory. While defense was a staple in Gregory’s system (along with some offense that wasn’t always easy on the eyes), the Flyers have had trouble stopping foes in Miller’s first two years.
“Moving forward, the challenge for our program will be on defense,” Miller said. “It will be the first time, knock on wood, since I’ve been the coach here where we’ll have five perimeter players to rotate in the game, not three.
“Khari went down for six or seven games, and that’s really hard to deal with from a backcourt perspective. Because of that alone, I’m encouraged that our defense can really regain some of the things we teach every day. Making us bigger and stronger and older next year with some of the returners, I feel really good about where we’re at.”
UD’s inability to guard the ball also has led to some trouble on the defensive boards. When big men have to help, it gives opposing frontcourt players free lanes for offensive rebounding.
“We have to be totally locked in on the understanding that the competitiveness of the program starts on the defensive side of the ball,” Miller said. “We’re always going to be pretty good on offense because we have a good style with a lot of movement and a lot of different parts. Defensively is where we have to take that next step.”
The Flyers aren’t bringing in a post player in their recruiting class, and they still have one scholarship left, which has led to speculation that Kavanaugh may return for his senior year.
John Kavanaugh, the player’s father, declined to comment Saturday. And Miller said: “That would be a conversation for later on down the road. … There will be a lot of scuttlebutt out there, but we won’t cross that path until we’re way down through the spring calendar.”
Dayton basketball 10-year profile
Season Record RPI Postseason
2012-13 17-14 111 —
2011-12 20-13 81 NIT
2010-11 22-14 70 NIT
2009-10 25-12 54 NIT
2008-09 27-8 27 NCAA
2007-08 23-11 32 NIT
2006-07 19-12 75 —
2005-06 14-17 118 —
2004-05 18-11 126 –
2003-04 24-9 40 NCAA
Dayton’s 2013-14 projected roster
Player Yr. Pos. Ppg.
Vee Sanford Sr. G 12.3
Devin Oliver Sr. F 8.9
Dyshawn Pierre So. F 8.8
Jalen Robinson So. F 6.1
Matt Derenbecker Jr. F 4.5
Khari Price So. G 2.8
Devon Scott So. F 2.0
Alex Gavrilovic Jr. F 2.0
Brian Vonderhaar Sr. G 0.3
Mitch Asmus Sr. G 0.0
Bobby Wehrli So. F 0.0
Jordan Sibert Jr. G –
Dayshon Smith Fr. G –
Kendall Pollard Fr. F –
Kyle Davis Fr. G –