COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Archie Miller took one last stroll across the floor at empty Nationwide Arena flanked by his wife and a security guard.
The building had effectively been converted hours earlier into a second home for the Dayton Flyers coach and his team, and they made the most of the support to continue another run in the NCAA tournament that already includes two wins heading into Sunday’s matchup with the No. 3 seed Oklahoma Sooners. Miller was clearly already anticipating even more buzz around the No. 11 Flyers by the time tipoff arrives as he took off his tie and headed down the tunnel for the final time after a long night capped with a 66-53 win over Providence.
“This place is going to be bumping Sunday,” Miller said.
The raucous Flyers fans will make sure of that again, no doubt. Now it’s up to the Sooners if anybody is going to ruin their week-long party.
Key to the game: Few teams control the rebounding battle better than the Sooners, who use their size, strength and athleticism to dominate the glass. For a small roster that doesn’t have an active player over 6-foot-6, Dayton does an admirable job fighting for loose balls and boxing out opponents, but it will be put to the test against bruisers Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas on the interior. The Sooners finished No. 22 in the country in rebounds per game this season, pulling down an average of 38, and used their edge in that area on Friday night to fend off Albany thanks to 23 second-chance points. Dayton, meanwhile, finished outside the top 300 teams in rebounds per game, but it has a few tricks up its sleeve when it looks overmatched physically. The Flyers are crafty, showing a knack for tipping balls to teammates when they can’t get two hands on a rebound. And if a rebound becomes a mad scramble, odds are Dayton will be leading the pack for it thanks to its nonstop energy and willingness to scrap on the floor. The Sooners will likely have the rebounding advantage as usual, but if Dayton can come close to neutralizing it, its tournament run might survive the weekend.
Player to watch: There are flashier Flyers than Kyle Davis, but for a program that has been relying so heavily on its dominant defense, the scrappy guard might be the one the team can’t do without moving forward. The sophomore already proved how valuable he was in the First Four when he secured the opening win with a lock-down defensive stop, keeping Boise State from getting a decent shot up on the final possession. And he was even better in the upset on Friday night, coming up with five steals and playing remarkable on-ball defense to lead an effort that collectively had Providence flustered from start to finish as it turned the ball over 16 times and scored just 53 points. Perhaps no sequence showed his diverse set of skills any better than the inbounds pass he deflected to himself on one baseline against the Friars, turning that steal directly into offense with a coast-to-coast layup through traffic that set the tone early in the second half. Slowing down Oklahoma star Buddy Hield might not be a one-man job, but Davis figures to be in charge of that mission for the Flyers.