In honor of Dayton Flyers Basketball season being 35 days away as of the time of this writing, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a story that involves #35, Matt Kavanaugh:
I have always said that most Dayton basketball games, if you isolated “just the game” in an individual bubble, are not all that memorable. When you consider that, by and large, the greatest moments of the program’s history account for less than 1% of moments that have taken place, you can start to see where I’m coming from. No, what makes most Dayton games memorable is what you were doing, who you were with, and the context around the evening/afternoon. Let me tell you a story about one of those nights, that now in hindsight, is up there with some of the all-time memorable evenings at UD Arena.
The night was December 7th, 2011. Your pal Sully here was 21 years old, just about midway through my senior year at old alma mater, living at 225 Lowes. It was a Wednesday and the Immaculate Conception holiday was that next day. If you’ve ever taken classes at any catholic school in your life, you know that students always get that day off. (Suck it public schoolers!) This is obviously relevant to my story because at the University of Dayton there was a basketball game that Wednesday evening, and it was against Anthony Grant’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Without school the next day, the most important independent variable was added to the mix of the students section: booze. Anyone who has been to our arena while school is in session knows there’s a big difference between a weeknight students crowd and, say, a Saturday night. We are not a unique institution in that regard, but those nights hit different just the same, because the game has always been just a smidge more exciting after 5-10 pregame adult beverages. This was one of those nights.
First year head coach Archie Miller had been on the job for just over six months and was in the process of picking up the pieces from the Juwan Staten/Brian Gregory fallout year of 2010-11. This version of the Flyers was talented on paper, however anything but spectacular on the floor to that point. They stumbled out of the gate to go 5-3, including an OT loss at Miami (OH) and one of the most embarrassing home losses of the 2000s; a 29-point blowout to Buffalo seven days prior (to this day, most livid I’ve ever been after a Flyers game). The team had raw talent, but was struggling to put it altogether and get the roster to play their best basketball as a unit, which would of course become the calling card of Archie Miller, years later. Kevin Dillard was one of the best Dayton ball-handlers ever, Chris Johnson was likely the best rebounding guard of my lifetime at UD. They were surrounded by veterans, had five guys who could shoot the three ball, were top 30 in the country that year in offense and to this day are the best Flyers free throw shooting team of all time (77%). They finished the year 20-13, immediately bounced from the NIT after an A10 semis loss to Xavier. Everything about this season points to it being skipped over in the history books, and rightfully so, but the 2012 season did give us December 7th.
On the other side of the floor, AG was done with the rebuilding at Alabama and came into his third year with the expectation that this would be the team to turn the, um….aw shit, I gotta do it….TIDE on the trajectory of the program. With three top 100 recruits joining a veteran roster that lost in the NIT final after narrowly missing the tournament, all things were looking up in Tuscaloosa. AG, ever the gentleman, was kind enough to schedule UD on a home-and-home in those years. The Tide handled the first leg of the journey to Dayton, and showed up at the UD Marriott ranked #15 in the country, 7-1, fresh off a loss to an eventual tournament-bound Georgetown. This was a long way of saying Alabama brought in a damn good team, and Dayton…kinda didn’t.
It was customary in those days to meet at a house in The Ghetto for pregame and slug down a couple cold ones in the living room before heading over to The Arena, and I distinctly remember the tone of our conversation that night being something like this:
“Well, we dont look very good, and just lost to fucking Buffalo by a million, but with a ranked team coming into a sold out Arena in front of a sauced up student body…we always have a chance.”
The back half of that sentiment will be true until the end of time.
Over the last decade or so, the main topic of conversation among the fanbase year-round is the lack of quality non-conference opponents UD can get into The Arena. So naturally, when the Flyers are able to convince a ranked team to foolishly step foot in our building before January…the atmosphere holds a different buzz than normal. December 7th was no different.
The Flyers successfully pushed the pace to start the game and Kevin Dillard’s and-1 to extend the lead to 13-6 had the building salivating for more – knowing there was blood in the water in the first five minutes of gameplay. When you’re down real low in the students section on nights like this, its just noise all around you. It’s almost hilarious sometimes to consider how much different the experience is compared to the last few rows upstairs in the 400s. I remember not having enough water when I got to The Arena that night, and I was sweating profusely because I used to wear a big red wig that was damn hot. Later that season I would cut a small hole in the top so I didnt have to take it off anymore during timeouts. No one said it was easy to bring the LOWD for 2+ hours, but someone has to do it.
After a few minutes of traded buckets, The Arena was looking for reason to explode. And then this happened….
Without a doubt the dumbest, silliest, greatest, most perfect and most perfectly nonsensical play I have ever seen from the Dayton Flyers.
Count it as one of the slowest developing fast breaks of all-time, but what a goddamn moment. The years that preceded this season we’re known for their dunks, specifically of the alley-oop variety, and with Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson freshly graduated, it was fair to assume that era of cramming jams was over…but not on December 7th.
The place went absolutely nuts, specifically the student section. My freshman year (09 season) the Flyers were undefeated at home, we won some big games in my four years, a couple against Xavier even, but ask any student of that era which was the loudest moment in The Arena…and I bet my wallet they say this one right here.
My roommate is inside this red circle just yelling. He was from New Jersey so he started flexing because I assume thats just an instinct of people from New Jersey. I’m to the left as you look at the picture, jumping as high as my feet would take me. That was my thing, idk guys…
My friend Matt Girouard used to wear a neon shirt to games, that was his thing. He is jumping in the air so hard he ends up damn near falling over the row in front of him…
It was at that moment, I knew UD was going to win the game. Point blank. When you talk about home court advantages in college basketball…these are the nights you’re referring to. UD only had an 8-point lead at that juncture, but it may as well have been 20. The Arena was reacting to made shots like our tournament hopes depended on it. Very few buildings can generate that kind of energy in the first 10 minutes of a contest, and UD Arena is one of them. It will always be one of them. The team started to shoot with confidence, passing lanes started opening and the offense was flowing. The good guys cruised into the locker room up 11 and I went to the concourse bathroom to reapply face paint.
From there, the Flyers continued to feed off the crowd and extended their lead to 16 at the U12 timeout. The building never let off the gas for a minute. Like a title fighter…when you have a ranked team against the ropes at home, you have to make sure they’re down for the count. However, over the next four minutes, AG and Company chipped away and got the lead down to as little as four at the U8 after a 13-1 run.
But like I said…it just wasn’t gonna happen for Alabama on that night. Not in Dayton, OH, not at The Arena. UD immediately answered with a 14-2 run of their own, and a Paul Williams 3-pointer with 106 seconds left put the Dayton lead back at 16 and capped off a 52% night from 3pt land. The student section reminded the Tide who’s house it was, and the entire building watched zeros hit the clock as we chanted “We Are UD”.
Looking back 8 years now, its doubly funny that we’ve come full circle: Archie taking UD to new heights, leaving and AG returning to the Gem City after being fired from Alabama…only to see more success than his predecessor. Two men, two programs were crossing tangled paths heading in different directions on that night, we just didn’t know it yet.
You’re probably at this point in the article thinking to yourself: “That’s a neat story Sully, but why today? Why now?”
I thought about that for a while too:
In the recent interview I did with David Jablonski for the Dayton Daily News, I told him that over the offseason I began asking myself where our fanbase goes from here. How do we bounce back from a year like 2020? How do I get myself excited, invested in Dayton Basketball again after knowing what happened to the best version of a Dayton Basketball team? What’s the point? Why are we all doing this? And it brought me back to this night in 2011…
Even though many seasons of Dayton basketball do not reach our expectations and many will be glossed over in the history books, like 2012, every now and then our team/arena give us nights like December 7th, and thats just enough to make it worth the trip back for more.
The 2021 season is 35 days away. Wear red, and be LOWD.