By HAL McCOY
Expectations, lofty expectations and high expectations, are why the University of Dayton Arena was fully occupied Friday night, all 13,455 chairs filled with squirmy posteriors.
It was only an exhibition game, a dress rehearsal for the University of Dayton basketball team. Nothing counted. It was a chance for the Flyers to cavort around the floor in their new uniforms and a chance to beat up on a Division II team.
With those high expectations from the Flyer Faithful buzzing their eardrums, the Flyers nearly cracked.
The University of Findlay isn’t any old Division II programs. It is one of the best. The orange-clad Oilers were 20-9 last year and have won 20 or more games in 14 of their last 15 seasons.
So they didn’t bus down from northwestern Ohio to be anybody’s cannon fodder or doormat.
They came to play and they came to win. And they nearly did it, which would have wiped away a whole arena of Great Expectations.
The Flyers finally wore them down with a late awakened rush, winning 76-69. But the Flyers trailed by as many as 16 points midway through the first half and didn’t own a single lead until Sam Miller swished a ‘3’ with seven minutes left in the game.
In the first half it was Findlay playing like it was on its home floor and it was the team destined for greatness.
The Flyers were foreign to defense in the first half, showed no team offense concept and avoided the glass for rebounds as if afraid the backboard would shatter and they’d be stabbed by shards.
The Oilers led, 41-34, at the half, shooting 50 per cent (16 for 32) and made 7 of 13 three-pointers. The Flyers made only 12 of 30 (40 percent) and were useless from three-point territory, 1 for 6.
Even though the Flyers recovered in the second half, wearing down their opponents with superior bench power and spending considerable time at the foul line, UD coach Archie Miller wore more of a frown than he usually does.
“Disappointed, quite frankly, with our intensity at the start of the game,” he said. “Over the course of the 40 minutes I was very disappointed and frustrated in our mindset defensively and that’s not how we are going to have to play to be successful.
“What happened out there tonight, quite frankly, isn’t good enough to beat anybody on our schedule,” Miller added. “Offensively, we have to learn to play with each other a little bit better. Fortunately, we had some transition opportunities when they turned it over 16 times and we made 15 points off those turnovers.”
Miller, though, wasn’t appeased with the diet of turnovers.
“All in all, our front court had no intensity on the glass (the Flyers were outrebounded 39-37). Our perimeter people and our front court people were unable to defend the ball and keep it in a straight line and those are really big concerns.”
About the only positive aspect of the night for Miller was the crowd.
“That was fantastic to watch our fans sell out an exhibition game,” he said. “That speaks volumes about how much they care about our kids and how much pride they have in our program. Our players have to do a much better job of being responsible and their expectations have to be better.”
Senior guard Charles Cooke knows all about the expectations of both the team and, personally, from himself.
Cooke had two points at the half on 1 of 5 shooting and was almost an invisible man. But he stepped it up when it was needed.
He blocked a shot with seven minutes left when the Flyers were guarding a five-point lead. Then with the clock shot at :01, Cooke bottomed a ‘3’ to push a UD lead from two to five with 2:15 left. Ten second later he rebounded a missed shot and sprinted down the floor and hit a jump shot.
And with seven second left he hit two free throws to finally put Findlay to sleep.
“There are a lot of expectations and we have to meet them,” said Cooke. “We have to come out of the gate playing hard. We didn’t do that. It was a Division II team, but you make it tough on yourself with a start like we had. We have to correct those mistakes.
“We have to have more pride and start the game off the right way,” he added. “I tried to put myself in the best position to make plays late in the game, score, get in position, rebound, block a shot. Do what I could. But that has to be me from the beginning. It can’t be three, four or five minutes. It has to be me for 40 minutes from beginning to end and that’s something I have to correct on my behalf, too.”
After his two-point 1 for 5 first half, Cooke finished with team-high 19 points and team-high nine rebounds.
Newcomer Josh Cunningham, a 6-7 red shirt sophomore from Chicago, scored 18 points and hit 7 of 10 shots and was 4 for 4 from the foul line.
Miller, though, was in no mood to pass out bouquets of roses for this stinkweed of a night for his entire team.
Of Cunningham, he said, “He is a talented kid and it is the first time for him playing with us and the first time in front of a crowd. Defensively he is still learning how we play.
“He is going to get better and you can see he is talented,” Miller added. “The thing I was really disappointed with about Josh and his play tonight was his effort on the glass, the first half in particular. Josh is our best rebounder and for him to have only five rebounds in 24 minutes, three on the defensive end — that’s not going to get it done for him. We need him to rebound the ball.”
After The Great Escape Friday, the Flyers begin play for real next Friday at home against Austin Peay — and expectations remain high.