GAME NOTES: The second round of the NCAA Tournament tips off early Thursday afternoon when the 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers do battle with the sixth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in South Regional play at the First Niagara Center.
Dayton (23-10) earned an at-large bid out of the Atlantic 10, one of six teams in the conference to make the field, by going 10-6 in the competitive league and by bolstering its resume with impressive non-conference victories over Gonzaga, California and Ole Miss. The Flyers cemented their at-large status by winning 10 of 11 prior to losing to Saint Joseph's in the A-10 Tournament quarterfinals, 70-67.
Ohio State (25-9) rose all the way to No. 3 in the AP poll following a 15-0 start only to stumble early in its league schedule with four straight losses in January, but it finished off 11-8 in the Big Ten, a conference widely considered to be one of the nation's best. The Buckeyes have been one of the tournament's most consistent teams of late, as they are the only team to have made the last four Sweet 16s.
The Buckeyes hold a 4-2 advantage in the all-time series with the Flyers, most recently taking down a 74-63 decision in the 2008 NIT Quarterfinals.
The Flyers used a late 7-0 run in their most recent bout to take a one-point lead with 39 seconds left on a Matt Kavanaugh jumper, but Saint Joseph's answered on its next possession with a 3-pointer to put them away. They shot an impressive 48.2 percent from the field, but the difference was made at the free-throw line, where they were outscored by SJU, 15-6. Dyshawn Pierre paced the effort with 11 points, while Jordan Sibert and Kavanaugh netted 10 apiece.
Dayton's offensive attack has been stellar all season long, as it shoots 46.6 percent from the field (including 37.8 percent from 3-point range) for 73.4 ppg, which has been more than enough to support a solid defensive presence (.439, 67.6 ppg). Sibert puts up a team-high 12.5 ppg and has drained 75 3- pointers at a 43.9 percent clip. Devin Oliver (12.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Pierre (11.1 ppg) and Vee Sanford (9.9 ppg) have also been impressive for a team that spreads out its scoring production.
The Buckeyes made a great run to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but saw their stay end with a 72-69 loss at the hands of Michigan. They battled back from 12 down in the second half to take a three-point lead with 4:12 left, but from there the Wolverines put the game away with a 7-1 run to close out the contest. LaQuinton Ross put up 19 points, despite missing all five of his 3-point attempts. Shannon Scott tallied 18 points, six assists and five rebounds off the bench and Sam Thompson contributed 11 points.
Most of Ohio State's success this season has come due to its outstanding defense, which allows opponents to shoot just 40.5 percent from the field for 59.8 ppg, the latter ranking 12th-best in the nation. Its excellent turnover margin (+3.2) goes a long way in keeping teams off the scoreboard. Offensively, the squad makes just shy of 45 percent of its field-goal attempts for 69.8 ppg and is paced by Ross' 15.4 ppg. Lenzelle Smith Jr. brings 11.1 ppg to the table, while Aaron Craft (9.6 ppg, 4.7 apg) is one of the country's best perimeter defenders with 2.5 spg.
Dayton may not be the most flashy team, but it is efficient and doesn't turn the ball over much, which will give it a good chance at an upset. However, expect Ohio State's tournament experience under head coach Thad Matta to shine through down the stretch.
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