It was four days before Christmas – halftime of a West Palm Beach Invitational game against 9-2 Georgia Tech – and the Dayton Flyers’ women were down by three points.
In the same tournament the day before they had trailed unbeaten Virginia Tech by three at the break and ended up losing by 12.
Three weeks earlier they were tied with No 18 South Carolina at the half and fell by 10. A few days before that at Green Bay, they were down three to the Phoenix at the intermission and lost by 16.
The team’s non-conference schedule included six games on the road, two Top 25 opponents, four teams that had been in the NCAA Tournament last March and the unbeaten Hokies.
UD coach Shauna Green said her team’s strength of schedule was No. 7 in the nation and that challenge showed in the 4-6 record the Flyers had taken into the Georgia Tech game.
With a pattern of second half fades on their ledger, the Flyers looked reality square in the eye during the break with Georgia Tech.
“They felt our season could go one way or another with that game,” Green said. “We’d been so close with all those teams and lost and I think they got sick of it. They just went out and put it all together.
UD outscored Georgia Tech by 22 in the final two quarters and won 85-66.
“That definitely was the turning point for us,” said junior guard Jenna Giacone.
“We finally played up to expectations and knew how we could play from then on.”
And that’s just what happened Saturday afternoon at UD Arena as the Flyers routed LaSalle, 84-45.
The victory upped the Flyers record to 6-6. It’s the first time their ledger has been even in six weeks, going back to when they beat Toledo on Nov, 21 to up their record to 2-2.
Saturday, Green played everybody in uniform – 13 players since Christen Szabo was injured and Ashleigh Parkinson was sick – and all 13 scored.
“Just like with Georgia Tech every single person stepped up and did what they had to do,” Green said. “Every single person, when they got in the game, added energy and focus. There were no let downs with any lineup we had out there. That’s what we’re talking about when we say we’re 16 Strong.
That’s the team motto – it accounts for the 15 players on the roster and a transfer who must sit out – and while it may sound a little inflated, it’s been the case in these past two games.
Saturday, the Flyers were led by two players off the bench.
Giacone had a career-high 13 points and 6-foot-2 senior Maddy Dennis had a season-high 12 points – making all five shots she took, including two three pointers – and a team-high seven rebounds.
Against Georgia Tech, the two had been instrumental, as well.
Dennis had a double-double – a career-high 11 rebounds and 10 points – and Giacone scored nine points, which was her career best until Saturday.
Both haven’t had the easiest path leading up to the heroics of the past two games.
Dennis is from Perth, Australia and gets home just once a year and said her parents come to see her once a season, as well.
Although she had had experience being away from home – playing for various Australian national teams, she’s competed in Russia, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, China and all across her homeland – but it’s still tough being away over most holidays and months on end.
For her first three years at UD she said she went with Parkinson, her roommate since freshman year – to her home in Newark for the Christmas holidays. Now with a boyfriend on the UD baseball team, she went with him this year back to his home in Green Bay.
“You know she misses home and I’m sure she, like every player here, wishes she started more, but she’s never let any of that show or affect her work ethic” Green said. “She’s done a remarkable job in the classroom with a crazy hard major (biology) and she’s someone I really trust on the court for us now.
“Across the board she’s such a high-character, hard-working kid. She’s just a great person. Someone like that you want to have all this success that’s coming now.”
The 6-foot-1 Giacone, who’s from Delmar, N.Y., has had an even tougher time of it at UD.
A foot injury cut short her 2016-17 freshman season and then forced her to sit out all last year.
She said wear and tear caused her to break the seismoid bone in her left foot. It took two surgeries some eight months apart – “the first one didn’t really work,” she said – and the rehab process was long and sometimes painful and still can be mentally challenging.
She has played in nine games this year – although just five minutes or less in five of them –and is just beginning to show her true self in the past couple of games. Saturday she even played some point guard and gave her LaSalle counterpart some fits.
As she regains her rhythm and confidence, Giacone like Dennis, has helped cement that idea of 16 Strong.
“Our bench, that’s what separates our team from other teams,” Giacone said. “If one person goes down or struggles, the next one can step up.”
Dennis agreed: “In practice every day it’s a toss-up when the red team plays the white. They’re always close matches.
“I think you saw that today. Every person who came in, stepped up. We’re all believing in each other and believing in the process now. ”
They call it 16 Strong and it’s the way, the Flyers say, they’ll turn this season around.