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Hansgen: Putting Dayton Flyers A-10 championship in perspective

Published: Friday, March 03, 2017 @ 1:58 PM
By: Larry Hansgen - WHIO Radio

When the Dayton Flyers lost to Evansville in the first round of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament in March of 1993 it capped a four-win season for the Flyers. At that time I was hard pressed to remember which four they won. (For the record, the wins came against Louisiana Tech, Loyola, Duquesne and Detroit).

Now with an outright Atlantic 10 championship under their belt and an unprecedented fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament all but assured, it is obvious the program has come a long way from its nadir under Jim O’Brien. But it was not that long ago that this season’s success seemed still far from within grasp.

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The program returned to relevance under Oliver Purnell and then Brian Gregory. Purnell’s Flyers got to the NIT in 1998 and to the NCAA tournament in 2000 and again in 2003. The Flyers went back to the Big Dance in Gregory’s first year, and in 2009, beat West Virginia for the first NCAA tourney win since 1990.

When Archie Miller arrived in 2011 he continued a string of five postseason appearances with a first-round NIT loss at Iowa.

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The following season was a step backward. Dayton finished the regular season with an 81-80 overtime loss at George Washington. As the team quietly got on the bus after the game, their season was over. They had failed to qualify for the A-10 tournament. The only hope was if Fordham could somehow win its first conference road game in eons and beat St. Bonaventure. By the time the UD bus reached the airport, Fordham had pulled off the upset. It was not so much of a celebration, as a sigh of relief that spread through the plane. Relief that the embarrassment of not making the A-10 tourney field had been avoided.

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As it was, the Flyers made a quick first-round exit with a loss to Butler. An invitation to the College Basketball Invitational was in hand, but when Miller met with seniors Kevin Dillard and Josh Benson, they showed no interest in continuing the season.

That was just four years ago.

Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis, and Kendall Pollard were signed to come to Dayton in the fall. Eventually joined by Charles Cooke and walk-on Jeremiah Bonsu they formed a senior class that has racked up more wins than any other in school history and they’re still not finished.

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When asked to describe what that group’s signature is on the program, Miller replied with one word: “Winning.”

From nearly missing the A-10 tournament to an outright championship. There was plenty of adversity along the way, the most devastating being the death of Steve McIlvene, but this group has met every challenge head on, and more often than not prevailed.

The history of Dayton basketball is one rich in tradition, but this chapter may be the most remarkable.