St. Henry native Ryan Mikesell had his most complete game as a Flyer, a double-double, to help lead Dayton past the SEC’s Vanderbilt Commodores.
DAYTON — Ryan Mikesell wears a plasticized mouth guard during every minute he plays basketball for the University of Dayton, dating back to when as a kid he wore braces and his father, Reed, made certain his son protected the major investment.
And the protection was especially needed Wednesday night in University of Dayton Arena when the 6-foot-7 sophomore was dodging flailing elbows under the basket.
It wasn’t easy staying away from the pointy elbows of Vandebilt center Luke Kornet. He stands 7-foot-1 in his Nike sneakers, six inches taller than Mikesell, making Mikesell’s mouth right about at Kornett’s elbow level.
“He got me with his elbows in the mouth a couple of times,” said Mikesell. Fortunately the mouthpiece was in place because more often than not Mikesell’s teeth guard dangles from his mouth or is tucked behind his ear during fouls shots and time outs.
Kornett is a 7-foot-1 anomaly. He would rather shoot ‘3’s than dunk or drop the ball into the basket from point blank range.
Kornett made Vanderbilt’s first basket and last basket of the game — both three-pointers. In between he made only one other basket, a two-point, and finished with eight points. And his used his thin-air height to grab only eight rebounds.
Mikesell, mixing it up with Kornett under the basket, outdid his taller adversary in every facet. He had his first double-double — 12 points and 11 rebounds. Like Kornett, he had two three-pointers, but took only three from beyond the line while Kornett was 2 for 7.
That made Mikesell the ‘Star of the Game’ as Dayton defeated Vanderbilt, 68-63.
Mikesell was born and bred in St. Henry in Mercer County. St. Henry, of course, is the home of former Cincinnati Reds star outfielder Wally Post. And Mikesell did some heavy damage in the post on the UD Arena floor, playing his best all-around game of his short career.
“He’s a monster, a real good player,” Mikesell said of Kornett. “He is a physical guy so the coaches just harped on us to play as hard as we can.”
Asked if he had ever seen a 7-foot-1 center prefer to shoot threes, Mikesell laughed and said, “I have not. You see it in NBA, but not at the college level. At St. Henry we just had 5-foot-11 guys shooting from the corners. That’s all they do.”
Asked if his performance Wednesday in front of 12,828 was his best, he said, “Definitely because I rebounded the ball pretty well. This is the first time this year I put everything together.”
It was made easier because Mikesell played 29 minutes and didn’t spend a lot of time on the bench next to coach Archie Miller after accumulating quick fouls. So often this season he picked up his first foul on an official’s first blow on his whistle. And the second came shortly thereafter.
“Coach Miller just keeps telling me to play with confidence and don’t foul,” he said. “The last two games I saw a lot in the first half with foul troubles. Playing defense without shoving with my hands and playing with confidence on the offensive end makes a difference.”
And how did his coach think he did?
“Ryan was good. He stayed out of foul trouble. He has been picking up one foul in about 25 seconds and a second one quickly and we can’t play him in the first half the last two or three games.
“He got into a little bit of a rhythm both offensively and defensively,” Miller added. “He made some things happen for us and got some scrap rebounds. For him to get a double-double in 29 minutes shows his versatility. We just have to keep him on the floor a little bit longer.”
Speaking of the Northwestern defeat, a game in which the Flyers trailed, 40-17 at halftime before losing by three, Miller said, “The only motivation you really need is when you get stomped into the mud, which we did. We were motivated.”
The Flyers jumped to a 7-0 lead when Vanderbilt (6-and-6) missed nine of its first 10 shots. But the Flyers were barely doing better and fell behind at the half, 23-21.
Both teams were 9 for 32 in the first half (28 per cent. And Mikesell was scoreless — 0 for 3 — but he snared five rebounds.
The Flyers burst out to start ther second half, an 8-0 run. Mikesell started the half with an offensive rebound put-back basket.
It was 37-32 for UD when Mikesell hit a ‘3’ with the shot clock at 0:01 to give the Flyers a 40-32 lead with 11 minutes left. Vanderbilt crept back to within 43-39 when Mikesell hit another ‘3’ to push it back to 46-39 with 7:20 left.
And his final basketball came on a fast break with 5:30 left that was pretty much the finishing touch, giving the Flyers their biggest lead of the game at 51-41.
From there, the Flyers enacted a Mummer’s-type parade to the foul line — 12 for 14 in the final four minutes. Charles Cooke was 6 for 6 in the final 22 seconds.
“Mikesell’s best game? Hard to say,” said Miller. “He had an impact on this game with winning plays. He had crucial plays, some offensive rebounds (three), made that big ‘3’ in the left corner. He defended inside pretty well. One his better all-around games.”
Mikesell said his freshman year was a feeling-out process and now that he is a starter his confidence is blooming.
“At the beginning of the year I was a little nervous about starting,” he said. “I didn’t play that much last year, but it was a big deal for experience. This year I feel a lot more comfortable.”
About his two important three-pointers, Mikesell said, “Coach was harping on us about making open shots. We have a lot of guys on our team who make that extra pass to get wide-open shots and it is just a matter of making them.”
After another not-so-pretty first half, though, the Flyers scored 47 points in the second half and shot 52 per cent (14 for 27). And after making only 2 of 13 first-half three-pointers, the Flyers connected five times in the second half on only nine tries.
“Seventeen assists on 23 field goals is the stat I’’m most proud of,” said Miller. “It shows that we learned a little bit from last game (67-64 loss to Northwestern) in terms of sharing the ball.”
So Mikesell has it down for now — mouthpiece in, no fouls, good shots, happy results.