Xavier and Dayton is one of the more underappreciated rivalries in our game. All of the publicity goes to Duke-Carolina, Syracuse-Connecticut, and Kentucky-Louisville or something of that ilk (all conveniently above the Red Line). But Xavier and Dayton is just as fierce. Both schools are Catholic, rather small, and compete in the same recruiting ground. So when Xavier comes to the Gem City, the intensity inside the Dayton Decibel Dungeon (better known as UD Arena) is ratcheted up.
Our Overlords to the South (so named because of their recent dominance in the rivalry) began the season ranked in the AP Poll, racked up some very impressive victories over quality opponents, but since an infamous incident at the Cintas Center, Xavier had gone into a little bit of a slide, But, back in Atlantic 14 play, the Muskies had seemed to get back in their stride, winning four in a row and sitting a half of a game ahead of Dayton (thanks to having played and won one more game in league play) in the A14 league standings when they took the short drive up I-75.
One of the myriad reasons the Xavier game is so special is the Xavier March, an annual tradition here at the good ol' U of D. The Red Scare (student section) gathers outside the Frericks Center, which is on Dayton's main campus, and that line of students marches down Stewart St. (shutting down traffic at any intersection we cross, up Edwin C. Moses Blvd. and then runs through the arena parking lot. It is about a 20 to 30 minute walk at a comfortable pace for a large group, so we usually have a little rally, leave about an hour before tip, and are in our seats in time for a little of shootaround and intros. Since the game was a one o'clock start, students began congregating around eleven. As I was one of the first students who arrived, not much was happening this early. So, I went inside the building to paint my face, and as you can see by the picture below, I ended up going a bit further. (I'm on the right, of course) Going on a 20-minute walk wearing only a t-shirt and shorts with the rest of my body being covered in red body paint may seem a bit extreme but, come on, It's Xavier.
Once the march was finished, and we were actually in the arena, the feeling had set in. Today was going to be another battle. While the national conversation start and ends with Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, Xavier's All-Everything guards, I was particularly worried about Kenny Frease, Xavier's seven-footer who is obviously big in the post, but also has a capable shot out to 10-12 feet. While our big men had shown dramatic improvement under first-year coach Archie Miller, I wasn't sure we had enough to combat him. It soon became clear that I was wrong.
Once the game tipped off, Dez Wells hit a three on X's second possession to give the Dayton fan a little bit of the "this may not be good" feeling, but Paul Williams answered with a #superhoop quickly, and soon after, Matt Kavanaugh hit a pair of free throws and that two-point margin would be as close as the Musketeers would find themselves the rest of the contest. Xavier held the lead to only about 4 to 6 points throughout the first portion of the first half, but Dayton's defense stifled Xavier and held Xavier to only two field goals for the last 7:08 of the first half. Frease was being denied entry in the post, and when he did get the ball, was forced into a difficult hook shot from a bit further out than his iking. The Musketeers as whole appeared a bit hesitant and their shot selection was questionable at times during that timeframe, and you'd have a hard time arguing that the atmosphere inside UD Arena didn't have some small hand in that. By the time the clock hit zero of the first half, Dayton led by 13, 46-33.
Dayton grew the lead out to the 15-point range for most of the second half, but at around the 11-minute mark, Holloway and Lyons drained #superhoops on two quick consecutive possessions, narrowing the lead to 11, and during Archie's timeout, I couldn't help but think "uh-oh, here they come". But Matt Kav's dominance inside, combined with Kevin Dillard's downright artful passing and a nice shooting day from Josh Parker helped close out the game as an 87-72 victory for the home team.
As I took the walk home, I noticed how cold it was. (I didn't bring a jacket or pants of any sort, because, honestly, what college student that you know ever makes good decisions?) I also noticed how much colder it would have been if we had lost. But then, I got back on point. This team was expected to go nowhere this year. Down to 9 scholarship players, a rebuild was in order, and an above-.500 season would have been an accomplishment. But now, we sit alone atop the A14. My last thought was how nice it was not having to rip my hair out from stress every. single. game. The new regime had brought in a new offense, a new era, and a new lease of life for Flyer fans. I've been here almost three years and the wait for this team (as well as making a fool out of myself at today's game) certainly seemed worthwile.
at DAYTON 87, XAVIER 72 01/21/2012
XAVIER 13-6 (4-2) -- T. Holloway 7-16 5-6 21; M. Lyons 7-14 3-5 20; D. Wells 2-6 0-0 5; A. Walker 2-4 1-5 5; J. Robinson 3-5 1-2 7; K. Frease 2-8 1-3 5; D. Davis 0-0 0-0 0; T. Taylor 1-1 1-3 3; B. Redford 2-2 0-0 6; J. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 12-24 72. DAYTON 14-5 (4-1) -- K. Dillard 4-11 5-6 16; C. Johnson 2-5 0-0 5; P. Williams 3-10 5-5 13; J. Parker 5-7 3-5 16; M. Kavanaugh 8-9 4-4 20; L. Fabrizius 2-7 0-0 6; A. Gavrilovic 2-3 3-6 7; R. Hill 1-1 2-2 4; D. Oliver 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 22-28 87.
Three-point goals: XU 8-14 (T. Holloway 2-6; M. Lyons 3-5; B. Redford 2-2; D. Wells 1-1), UD 11-28 (P. Williams 2-6; J. Parker 3-5; C. Johnson 1-3; L. Fabrizius 2-7; K. Dillard 3-7); Rebounds: XU 25 (K. Frease 5), UD 37 (M. Kavanaugh 9); Assists: XU 16 (M. Lyons 6), UD 17 (K. Dillard 9); Total Fouls -- XU 21, UD 20; Fouled Out: XU-D. Wells; UD-None.