MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Pardon the nickname pun, but there are few better ways to describe exactly what the Flyers did to No. 10 seed Stanford in the first of two games at the FedEx Forum on Thursday night. Dayton, a fringe bubble team a month ago, is moving on to the Elite Eight with an 82-72 win. Here's why:
Dayton scored at will. This game was always likely to be decided by a strength-on-strength matchup -- a top-40 Dayton offense that fueled the Flyers' late-season surge versus a top-40 Stanford defense that totally stymied Kansas last week. But the similarities ended at the adjusted efficiency rankings. The Flyers were quick, guard-oriented and reliant on spacing; the Cardinals are big, brutish and packed-in at the rim. Those differences worked almost entirely in Dayton's favor Thursday.
In a brilliant and often thrilling first half, the Flyers whipped the ball around the perimeter and dove at the rim in equal measure. They were 6-of-13 from 3. They recorded an assist on all 10 of their half-court field goals. They scored nearly 1.3 points per possession in the first half, and about 1.2 for the game. And Stanford -- which shot 2-of-12 outside the paint in the first half and 5-of-21 from 3 for the game -- couldn't keep up.
No, literally: Stanford couldn't keep up. Stanford's size was a huge advantage in its opening-weekend wins over New Mexico and Kansas, two teams that couldn't shoot from outside and couldn't find ways past the length of Stefan Nastic, Dwight Powell, John Gage and Josh Huestis around the rim. That size was a complete liability Thursday.
With 10 minutes left in the second half, in a play that put Dayton up 12 and pretty much summed up Stanford's night, the Cardinal had muscled Dayton into a long shot clock when Dayton guard Scoochie Smith took a ball screen at the top of the key. Smith crossed over, away from the screener, and Stanford's bigs were so slow to recover Smith was already soaring for a layup by the time Robbie Lemons slid over and fouled Smith on the body. There were dozens of plays like that. Another came a few minutes later: Stanford forward Dwight Powell cut Dayton's lead to six, and the Stanford fans who made the trip were on their feet. But Devin Oliver immediately slid past his defender and shoveled a slick left-handed pass to Devon Scott, who pump-faked three defenders and connected through contact.
Every time Stanford looked like it was making a little run, Dayton would get an easy shot on the other end. The Cardinal couldn't keep up on the scoreboard because they literally couldn't keep up.
Nastic didn't play enough. Dayton was solid on the defensive interior, but they had no real answer for 6-foot-11 center Nastic. When he was in the game, the Cardinal poured the ball down low, and Nastic was effective, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 from the field and 5-of-7 from the line. The problem? Nastic didn't play enough. He spent much of the first half on the bench with three fouls, and picked up a bad fourth on a post-entry loose ball with 13:24 to play. With five minutes left, Dayton whipped a gorgeous high-low pass to Oliver, and Nastic couldn't resist slapping over the top. His night, and season, ended there.
Dayton came in waves. How much depth matters in the NCAA tournament -- when everyone is in good shape, and TV timeouts and monitor reviews provide ample time for recovery -- remains up for debate. But there is no ignoring Dayton's bench advantage Thursday. At one point in the second half, Dayton reserves held a 29-2 advantage against Stanford's bench. They finished 34-2. They were relentless.
Dayton even rebounded well. The Flyers weren't taller, but they were quicker to 50-50 balls and loose rebounds, which allowed them to play Stanford's bigs to a rebounding rate draw. Both teams rebounded about a third of their misses. For Dayton and its high-flying, pun-friendly attack, that was more than enough.