The good news is the Flyers didn’t need Kendall Pollard to beat UMass Wednesday; and the better news is…they may have him back soon.
DAYTON — It was a heart-stopping moment, an instant when a basketball season can go downhill faster than an Olympic skier.
It was Tuesday afternoon, midway through the last practice for the University of Dayton Flyers before they meet the University of Massachusetts Wednesday night.
“I thought right away that Kendall Pollard was lost of the rest of the season, said UD Coach Archie Miller.
Miller said it was a Halloween movie-type scary, a non-contact injury.
“Kendall caught the ball on the left wing and took one step to put his foot down and fell to the floor,” said Miller. “He had a weird look on his face and began talking about his Achilles.”
His Achilles? A season-ending rupture Achilles. Miller could sense something very bad for his 6-foot-6 junior forward averaging 11.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
“When you see a guy go down like that his Achilles is either ruptured or strained,” said Miller. “The worst case would have been a tear that would end his season and the best case was no train, just a strain. Fortunately for us and for him it was the best case scenario and he is day-to-day.”
It wasn’t his day Wednesday, though. He didn’t play. Fortunately for the Flyers, they had Dyshawn Pierre, back for his third game of the season after a suspension.
Pierre started in his place and played 27 solid minutes, contributing 11 points (Pollard’s average) and eight rebounds (three more than Pollard’s average).
Center Steve McElvene also stepped it up, particularly early in the game, before the Flyers turned UMass into UMess in a 93-63 Atlantic 10 conference victory.
The 6-foot-11 red shirt freshman roamed the pain for 13 points, hitting five of seven shots, He had 12 of his 13 in the first half when the Flyers broke away from a 28-20 lead with 5 ½ minutes left in the half to a 40-24 intermission bulge.
Transfer Charles Cooke III chipped in with 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting, 2 for 4 from the three-point line. Kyle Davis and freshman John Crosby also scored 11.
“It doesn’t feel good when you lose one of your guys, like when Kendall went down, but it gives Pierre more time to get some rhythm under his belt,” said Miller. “He was good.”
The 268-pound McElvene, down 70 pounds from this time last year, imposed his will on UMass early sensing that added effort was needed with Pollard’s absence.
“When Kendall is out, it is not just me, it is everybody on the team who has to pick it up and we all did that,” said McElvene. “We needed to step it up early and (Miller) told us to come out and punch them in the mouth right away.”
And those quick early punches scored an early technical knockout but they kept on playing, even when the Flyers led by 25 with 10 minutes to go, because the rules require it.
Early in the game, “I looked for the ball, look for the open spots and set back screens to get my team open shots,” said McElvene. He had several baskets that began with drop steps before heading backward. “I tried those moves in high school and couldn’t do it to save my life, but I’ve worked on that and it’s working.
“With Kendall out we just try to get after it as hard as we can for as long as we can. Kendall is a great player, but he is out right now and we have to pick it up for him. If that means me grabbing a couple of extra rebounds that Charles (Cooke) making a couple of extra shots, that’s what we have to do.
“It is not good to have a good player go down, but in this instance we are blessed to have a guy like Dyshawn Pierre to step right into the lineup,” Cooke added.
The Flyers are 11-2, 2-0 in the Atlantic 10 and ranked No. 25 in the country. UMass is 8-6 and 1-1 in the conference. And the UMass win in the A-10 came Saturday at LaSalle, the team UD plays Saturday in Philadelphia.
Doesn’t that sound like a lark in the park for the Flyers? In typical coach speak, Miller says, “Nah, baby, nah.”
“Yes, LaSalle has a bunch of injuries, but they never struggle against us, never struggle against us,” said Miller. “To me it is the most difficult place for our team to play. We’ve had some real ugly ones up there. Last year we had a chance to win the conference championship up there and didn’t get the job done. They do have some injuries, but playing against their junk defenses and five-guard offense can give us some problems.”
McElvene knows what’s ahead, too.
“One thing we think about and won’t forget is letting the conference championship get away from us at LaSalle,” he said. “That’s why we are playing with chip on our shoulders. Like tonight. We have to come out and do the job right from the start and keep it going.”
(Edited By Julie McMaken Wright )