Injuries continue to plague the Flyers, but in their best tradition of late they continue to find ways to win basketball games. DEFENSE was Friday’s by-word in a fist fight win over LaSalle.
DAYTON — As University of Dayton basketball coach Archie Miller tugged down the knot of his tie, loosening the tightness in his throat, he said solemnly, “There is more than one way to win a basketball game.”
And there is more than one way to lose a basketball game. Miller’s Flyers displayed some ways Friday night in their Atlantic 10 conference opener against La Salle at UD Arena.
—The Flyers were 15 of 31 from the foul line, where they are permitted to shoot the ball at the basket uncontested from 15 feet away. For most of the night they scraped orange paint off the rims and the ball bounced away.
—The Flyers were 3 for 22 from beyond the three-point line. For the mathematically challenged, that’s barely 14 per cent. Even those who aren’t basketball coaches know that’s horrendous. That will get your team beat nine out of ten times, even at home.
And yet the Flyers won by 11 points, won going away, beat La Salle 66-55.
How? How in the name of James Naismith and all the peach baskets in the world did that happen?
There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, so since there were no cats in UD Arena, the Flyers did it another way.
As Miller put it, “With scrappiness and heart and hustle and dedication and the fans and the home court.”
It just proves what every coach knows — offense may come and go, but if you have the heart and the guts and the perseverance, defense never goes away.
—La Salle came into the game averaging 84.2 points a game. In four of their first 10 games they scored 89 or more. The Flyers held them to 55.
—La Salle came into the game averaging 10 turnovers a game, one of the lowest average in the nation. The Flyers forced them into nine by halftime and 20 for the game. UD scored 25 points off turnovers.
—La Salle came into the game with three high-scoring operatives — 6-foot-7 guard B.J. Johnson (20.2), 6-foot-5 guard Jordan Price (18.5) and 6-foot-6 guard Pookie Powell (12.7).
La Salle runs an intricate three-guard offense and the Flyers made certain the Explorers did their damage from the perimeter and kept them away from scratching up the paint.
UD outscored La Salle in the paint 42-16 and with three-pointers failing to fall for the Flyers the paint-points were necessary.
Kendall Pollard, playing his best game since coming back from two years worth of injuries, scored 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting — many of them under the hoop on feeds from Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis.
Scoochie (UD) and Pookie (La Salle)? Scoochie and Pookie sounds like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
Pookie was the only La Salle player to surpass his average, leading all scorers with 23. His four three-pointers were one more than UD’s team total.
And Pookie hit three straight early in the game and looked as if he might score 55 by himself. When La Salle lost to No. 1 in the country Villanova, 89-79 on December 6, Pookie scored 27.
To say La Salle was living by the three early in the game is a gross understatement. The first five Explorer baskets were ‘3’s’ and they didn’t hit a ‘2’ until Pookie drove for a basket with 9:55 left in the first half.
La Salle led, 20-15, with 9:19 left in the half and the Flyers exploded on the Explorers — a 19-3 run that helped UD construct a 38-27 halftime lead. The Flyers kept the Explorers an arms length away the rest of the game.
B.J. Johnson, averaging 20, scored only 12 and was 5 for 12 from the field — 3 for 8 from three. He scored 35 in a game against Florida Gulf Coast earlier this season.
Jordan Price, averaging 18, scored four. He wore UD’s Charles Cooke like a horse blanket and was 1 for 7 for the game. He scored 26 in a game against Lehigh this year.
Speaking of Cooke, he scored only 13, six below his average and was 1 for 6 from the foul line, but he was playing with a sore wrist.
The wrist is no longer a consideration. With three minutes left, Cooke drove for the basket and left his feet. He ran into Jordan Price and collapsed in the fetal position under the basket.
After he was tended to for a few moments he was helped off the floor and was in extreme pain as he walked up a ramp toward the training room.
“Some sort of back injury,” said Miller. And it doesn’t look good for Cooke for a Tuesday night game at St. Bonaventure.
“With his offense so prevalent, what he does for us on defense is overlooked,” said Miller. Cooke’s defense may be even more important to the Flyers than his 19 points a game.
What does Cooke bring to the Flyers?
“He scores a lot of points,” said Pollard after his 20-point night. “He’s a great leader, on and off the court, a great scorer, he’s a senior who brings experience.
“And he was playing against his old coach (Cooke transferred to UD from James Madison), Matt Brady was head coach at James Madison and is now on the staff at La Salle, so this is a game he wanted to play really well.”
With Cooke’s defense on Price and the rest of the Flyers dogging the Explorers, defense was the main staple for the Flyers to start 1-0 in the Atlantic 10 and 10-3 overall.
“Definitely, defense won this game for us,” said Pollard. “We did it on the defensive end. We got a lot of stops when we needed them.”
Scoochie Smith suffered an off night shooting the ball — 3 for 12 and 0 for 7 from the three-point line. But he was part of the defensive discipline.
“Defense helped us out big-time,” he said. “We missed a lot of threes and free throws. We easily could have had 80 points. But we played defense, we focused and locked in. We held their two leading scorers down and that helped us out a lot.”
Injuries continue to dog the Flyers, though. Guard Darrell Davis was absent Friday with a hamstring problem and his status for St. Bonaventure is up in the air.
Pollard missed most of last season’s tournament play with a knee injury and missed the first six games this year with a deep thigh bruise.
But he played a season’s high 35 minutes Friday and played his best.
“I feel great, my body feels great and I’m glad I’m starting to feel better as conference time is here,” said Pollard. “It feels good to be out there and feel as close to 100 per cent as possible, to be able to help my team. They rely on me to play at 100 percent.
“It was frustrating to sit so much last year and the start of this year, but I got to a point where I was OK with it and just concentrated on getting better and do things like I did tonight (he also had four steals).”
He said he isn’t playing cautiously, isn’t trying to avoid more mishaps and added, “I just go out and play my game. I haven’t adjusted anything. When I hit the deck (he hit it hard once Friday night) I just get back up. I’ll be 22 next Friday so I’m still young. I’m not 30, like those guys in the NBA who they say get old early.”