Tom Archdeacon: Flyers' season 'was something special for Dayton'

Mar. 24—SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes, what you see isn't exactly what you get.

After the Dayton Flyers ran out of time and comebacks and were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats, 78-68, Saturday, the UD players slowly walked off the Delta Center court to the cheers of their fans, who stood and applauded and sent them visual and verbal bouquets.

The players seemed to all respond in turn.

Koby Brea — who had put on another long-range shooting display, making 4 of 8 three-point attempts, two of them from Steph Curry range ― lifted his arms skyward and cupped his hands like a heart to let the people know how he felt.

Petras Padegimas and DaRon Holmes II — who had another showcase outing with a game-high 23 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and three assists — both extended their hands in front of them and applauded the fans.

Coach Anthony Grant raised an index finger to give them a Number 1 salute. But just went you thought the Flyers were sailing off the Salt Lake City stage on the love boat, you stepped into the postgame locker room where Enoch Cheeks sat quietly at his dressing stall.

"What did you feel when you left the court?" he was asked.

He thought a moment and said: "Honestly? Anger...sadness..awe and shock that it was all over."

Fellow guard Kobe Elvis next to him and didn't hesitate: "I feel anger...That's the main thing, anger.

"I'm mad we couldn't get it done. I'm mad how hard our guys worked for this to happen. I'm mad because I feel we let some people down and we let ourselves down.

"I was mad we had to leave the court and didn't get one more shot at them. We still had lots of fight left."

That last thought leads to the other what-you-see mirage.,

When the Wildcats took the court for Saturday's Round of 32 game, they looked at the Flyers and likely licked their lips.

They were the bigger team, the stronger team, the deeper team. And they had the better pedigree. For much of the season, they were ranked No. 1 in the nation.

From the opening tip, Arizona played like it wanted to bulldoze the Flyers straight back to Dayton.

The early strategy was to lob the ball in to their 7-foot, 265-pound center Oumar Ballo and let him muscle in on the lighter Holmes. The hope not only was to get Holmes in foul trouble — and he did get whistled for a personal just 2 1/2 minutes into the game — but to have Ballo bruise him into submission.

Thanks to their length, their beef and especially some early deadly shooting, Arizona had a 17-point lead with 2:43 left in the first half.

That's the same margin Nevada had on the Flyers with 7:14 left in the second half of Thursday's NCAA Tournament opener here. As everyone knows, UD pulled off a comeback for the ages then and won, 63-60.

The Flyers didn't panic against the Wolfpack and they didn't fold Saturday either. They ended the first half on a 10-0 run and trailed by just seven at intermission.

Although Arizona took a double-digit lead again early in the second half, the Flyers reeled them in once more and trailed by just three — 52-49 with 11:22 left, thanks to another Brea deep, deep three.

That's when he said Arizona guard Pelle Larsson gave him some in-game props:

"He said, 'Man, your shot is (something)!"

In the end though, the Wildcats had too many weapons — their bench outscored their Flyers' counterparts, 23-2 — and UD was headed home with a 25-8 record and a season full of memories for those faithful fans:

The victory over Nevada was Dayton's first NCAA Tournament win since 2015. And the comeback may well be the best ever in Dayton's storied basketball history.

One player after another talked about the "fight" and "resiliency" the team showed here in Salt Lake City.

Elvis said some of that comes from the "chip" many players carry:

"Everybody on this team definitely has a chip on their shoulders. A lot of guys came from different programs (he was previously at DePaul) where they might not have played as much and gotten the opportunity they now have here, Other guys are just coming back from long injuries.

"Everybody has one reason or another and put that all together and you get a gritty, resilient team:

Although he did make six of his 14 shots for 13 points, Elvis did misfire when he said this team let people down.

Just the opposite: — Everyone got to watch the birth of an All-American as the 6-foot-10 Homes became one of the best big men in the nation. After three seasons of growth at UD — much in the fashion of Obi Toppin who preceded him — he'll likely be on the pros next year. — People got to watch Brea — as smooth and pure of a shooter as there is in college basketball — become the best three-point shooter in the nation, making 49.7 percent of his beyond the arc attempts. — The Flyers gave their sold-out crowds perfection at UD Arena, going 15-0 this season. And on the road, they had memorable victories against LSU (this one with a comeback from 15 down); followed by a rout of rival Cincinnati and then that miracle about-face against Nevada, a performance that won them admiration and fans across the nation.

Along with the marquee moments there were others that bore closer-to-home consequence. — With this tournament appearance, junior Brady Uhl — the beloved walk-on turned scholarship player — got to add his piece to a family legacy at UD that started with his All-American granddad and then continued with his dad , both of whom experienced postseason success. — This year Flyers fans and current players got to see legendary coach Don Donoher — at the time 91 and in a wheelchair — take center court when he and his 1984 Elite Eight team were honored, — And maybe, best of all, you got to see Anthony Grant — saddened by family tragedy 22 months ago — smile again and again and again.

Of course, there was plenty to smile about — from the way the four new transfers blended into the program (and in the case of Javon Bennett help overcome the tough loss of All-Conference point guard Malachi Smith to a season-ending injury in the opener) to the glorious emergence of Brea and especially Holmes.

After the game Grant was asked about Holmes:

"This may have been DaRon's last game. He has as decision to make. Do you think he's ready for the next level?"

Grant shook his head in affirmation: "Yeah...I'm 100 percent behind whatever decision DaRon and his family makes. The guy's been a joy to coach. I wish I'd have him for another five years, another 10 years.

"I get calls from NBA teams and scouts who ask me: 'Is he as good a kid as it seems?'

"Yeah, he is, man. He's about all the right stuff. He's all about team. He's all about hard work. He's all about character and caring for other people. So whatever's best for him, I'm on that train. Sign me up."

In the dressing room — after Holmes had taken off his Flyers uniform for what may have been the last time and prepared to leave with his "brothers," as he called teammates — you saw once again what Grant was talking about.

Asked what he had felt walking off the court, Holmes thought a second, then said softly:

"I just felt proud of everybody. I was proud of the fans that came out to support us and proud of our team and the fight we showed. I was proud how we got a win here in March. This was something I always dreamed of and it couldn't have happened at a better place.

"This was something special for Dayton — the university and the city. It was a very big deal. I know we didn't win today, but we had one of the No. 1 teams in the nation on the ropes for a while and that was amazing, just a great feeling.

"We wanted to make people proud and I hope we did."

Sometimes what you see is exactly what you are getting.