By Tim Graham
The Dayton Flyers knew they needed every break they could muster.
The Flyers made the NCAA Tournament as the sixth and final Atlantic 10 team. They're an 11th seed. But there they were, leading the mighty Syracuse Orange early tonight in First Niagara Center.
The Flyers led by seven points 8:23 into the game and had chances to extend their lead, perhaps even dictate if they dared. Then came some turnovers, a couple missed layups, a blocked shot, some fouls, a missed free throw.
Was Dayton flirting with disaster?
With 2:47 left in the first half, that seven-point lead had evaporated. Syracuse had its first lead.
"You're playing against a great team," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "I mean, you're playing against one of the best teams in the country, and to play them in Buffalo, to expect to push ahead, so to speak, it's not really going through your head.
"Battling every possession defensively, watching our kids compete, giving ourselves a chance to be there, be there, be there. At the end of the game, we wanted to be right where we were, which was we had a chance to win the game."
In one mutually miserable stretch at the end of the first half and the start of the second half, Dayton had made only two of its last 14 shots from the floor, and Syracuse had made one of its last 12, including nine straight misses. Dayton hadn't made consecutive shots the entire game to that point. Syracuse had managed the feat once.
Syracuse kept hanging around, though, and with so many Orange fans in the building, there was a sense its cache might come through at some point. Syracuse took its largest lead with 7:49 to play, when guard Tyler Ennis made a layup to go ahead, 40-37.
Dayton retook the lead 91 seconds later on a pair of free throws and never trailed again, but Syracuse remained within striking distance until Ennis' three-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer.
"If you'd have told me at the end of the game, you'd have a one‑point lead with a minute or whatever, you're taking it," Miller said. "You're just going to take that.
"Fortunately tonight, they didn't hit some shots that they probably normally hit. The defense was great, but you also could play them 10 times, and I don't think that some of those shots would be missed.
"So a little bit of luck is on your head. And you need that, I think, obviously, in this tournament. You've got to be fortunate."