The game – which at times seemed more like a back-alley brawl between two bent-nosed scrappers – was over.
The Dayton Flyers had lost to Wichita State, 64-58, Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Their NCAA Tournament was over some 2 ½ hours after it began.
Scoochie Smith – who was his team’s one hero of the night – was walking off the court slowly behind the Flyers’ other three senior starters, all of whom had just played their last college game, as well.
Smith had scored a season-high 25 points and kept UD in the game when a couple of the other starters were having their worst performances of the year.
The large contingent of vocal UD fans who had made Bankers Life sound like UD Arena much of the night showed their love and appreciation for the Flyers point guard with a chorused: “Scoooooch! ….Scoooooch!”
He raised one arm to the heavens and waved slowly to them, but with each step his eyes began to tear a little more.
“I wasn’t thinking about the loss,” he said later. “I was thinking about everything that was coming to an end.
“I was thinking about how we had come in wanting to make a mark and how we left with a real legacy. I think we revived UD basketball and I’m pretty sure well go down as the greatest class in Dayton basketball.”
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Smith came to UD four years ago from the Bronx and was joined by two guys from the Southside of Chicago, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard.
Over four years they won 102 games, more than any class in UD history. They went to four straight NCAA Tournaments – made the Elite Eight as freshmen – and this year their team set the all-time home attendance record at UD Arena.
Over the past two seasons they were joined by Charles Cooke, a James Madison transfer out of New Jersey, who became the team’s most prolific scorer.
That was the case until Friday night when he struggled mightily, going 1 for 10 from the floor. At the same time sophomore Xeyrius Williams went 1 for 9 and the Dayton bench was outscored 18-5.
And yet it was still a one-point game with just over six minutes left. Besides the play of Smith the reason, Davis said, was the team’s moxie:
“That’s one thing about our team. Even when we‘re down and not playing well, we fight.
“Beforehand everyone talked about big, bad Wichita State. They punked everybody they played and put fear in people’s eyes We didn’t have fear. We showed we weren’t soft like everybody else. We gave then a run for their money.”
The 31-4 Shockers agreed:
Zack Brown, Wichita State’s 6-foot- 6 junior who scored 12 points Friday night, said his team hadn’t seen anybody like UD in the Missouri Valley. He called the Flyers “a bunch of hard vets.”
As Shockers’ coach Gregg Marshall put it: “Those dudes are warriors.”
Started with a phone call
Davis said the whole thing started with a phone call some five years ago:
“Me and Scoochie had played against each other in AAU. After I committed to Dayton, Scoochie was being recruited here too and I found out he asked them for my phone number. He called me up and said, ‘I want to come to UD, but you’re gonna play the point.
“I said, ‘No Bro, you come to Dayton. I’m not gonna play the point. The point is all you.’
“Once Scoochie was on the bandwagon, both of us worked on getting Kendall. I knew him from playing against him in high school and Scoochie knew him from a camp. And when he committed, all of a sudden we had two guards and a big man and that’s trouble for anybody who knows basketball. We had a real chemistry. Then when wee got Cooke, it got even better. You already had three tough guys and you added one more and that can be another team’s worst nightmare.
“It worked a lot of times for us.”
‘Keep our heads up’
After the game Davis said the seniors all hugged and each had some words with Coach Archie Miller.
“He showed me some love and I told him I loved him, too,” Pollard said.
Smith said: “He told us it was a tough moment, but we should keep our heads up. We had accomplished a lot here and we all had big things ahead as we go on with our respective lives.”
You wondered the same about Miller — who is one of the more sought after young coaches in the game and has an incoming roster with some noticeable holes in it — but he shot that line of thought down immediately in the post-game press conference when someone brought up the open Indiana Hoosiers job.
“No thoughts,” he said.
And the session promptly ended.
Pollard and Smith had joined Miller for the formal media session while Davis and Cooke had stayed back in the dressing room with the younger players.
Cooke was inconsolable and sat for 30 minutes without moving, much of the time with his head in his hands. He would not speak to the press.
Davis faced the music and battled his emotions as he did.
He said he had advised the younger players not only to “play hard next year like every game might be your last” but to take part in the whole UD experience:
“I enjoyed all four years at the university, not just playing basketball, but just being a regular student and enjoying the community. “
When he returned to the team’s dressing quarters Smith said there was more to their legacy than just the games they won:
“When you think of where we’re all from, we’ve got kids back home where we are role models. We are giving them faith. Where we grew up not many kids get the opportunity to play Division I basketball and play in the NCAA Tournament four years in a row. I think we gave some hope to a lot of neighborhoods.”
Davis likely agreed but once the media crowd was gone and he was alone with his thoughts, the reality of the moment became tough:
“It’s hitting me that I’m not gonna put a Dayton Flyers uniform on again and I won’t play in that Arena with all those fans and all those students that love us and support us. Right now all that is pretty surreal. It’s hard to take in.”
And then he bowed his head and the tears spilled down his cheeks and for a while he could say no more.