By HAL McCOY
Is a college basketball coach permitted to bring firecrackers into the arena and light them under the chairs of his players before a game starts?
University of Dayton basketball coach Archie Miller and his assistants need desperately to find a way to fire up the Flyers, ignite them, from the opening tip.
They have a habit of sleepwalking and daydreaming and lollygagging early in games so far this season.
Would anyone who didn’t bare witness to the proceedings Saturday night in Chicago’s United Center believe that Northwestern beat Dayton. 67-64, despite:
—Making only one field goal in the final eight minutes?
—Making only six field goals in the second half?
—Scoring only 27 points in the second half?
—Scoring only 12 points in the final 12 minutes, 10 on free throws?
Believe it, because that’s what happen because UD played the first half the way Northwestern played the second half.
The Flyers, playing with no intensity, no fire, no aggressiveness, fell behind 11-0 to start the game. Halfway through the first half they were 3 for 15 from the field and trailed 21-12. And then it got worse. The Flyers went seven minutes without scoring, were outscored 10-0, and fell behind 31-12.
When the buzzer signaled the end of the first half the Flyers were somewhere out in the parking lot, down 40-17, missing their final 12 field goal attempts during a 15-0 Northwestern sprint.
The Flyers were 4 for 28 in the first half and a large contingent of fans who made the trip were ready to vacate the premises and search for some Chicago-style deep dish pizza.
It was evident the Flyers thought the game started at 8 o’clock. It started at 7 o’clock, but only Northwestern was playing.
Then came an amazing about face, almost as if the two teams switched uniforms at halftime. UD became Northwestern and Northwestsern became Dayton.
The Flyers turned it on. They were ultra-aggressive. They were energized. They were assertive. They applied tourniquet-like pressure on the suddenly inept Wildcats.
Northwestern owned a 22-point lead, 55-33, with eight minutes left. Xeyrius Williams hit back-to-back threes and it was if somebody defrosted a frozen spigot.
Dayton’s defensive pressure forced turnovers, bad shots and no shots and the climb from the deepest of pits began.
In the first 13 minutes of the second half Northwestern had two baskets and six turnovers and the Flyers kept tightening the screws.
When Scoochie Smith sketched a steal and a driving layup at 7:15, the Flyers were within 11 at 55-44, in the middle of a 13-0 run.
Charles Cooke drove for a basket and hit a three and UD was dogging the Wildcats, creeping to within eight at 59-51 with 3:40 to go.
Scoochie Smith stole an inbounds pass and kerplunked a three with 1:30 left and UD was spitting down the back of Northwestern’s jerseys at 59-55.
It was a whole bunch of comeback stuff, but the Flyers ran out of time, but not effort. They crept within three, 65-62 on two Smith free throws with nine second left. But Bryan McIntosh made two free throws for Northwestern with seven second left for a five-point lead. Smith drove for a basket at 0:02 to bring it back to within three.
It looked as if the Flyers would get the ball with two seconds left, down three, when Kyle Davis wrestled the ball away on the inbounds pass. The officials awarded UD the ball, but when they reviewed the play they saw that Davis had stepped out of bounds while in possession of the ball. So Northwestern received another chance to inbounds the ball and flung it down court as time expired.
So Northwestern crushed UD in the first half and UD crushed Northwester in the second half — but not quite enough. The first half UD slumber was too much.
Northwestern is 9-and-2, narrowly losing games to Norte Dame and Butler, while the Flyers are 7-and-3 with a game Wednesday night in UD Arena against Vanderbilt.
Amazingly, neither Cooke, the Flyers’ leading scorer, nor Smith scored a single point in the first half. Smith finished with 18 and Cooke had 12.
It was not a good night for the two UD players returning home to Chicago to play in front of family and friends. Kendall Pollard had seven points and only two rebounds and was foul-plagued. Kyle Davis scored two points and was 1 for 8 from the field.
Northwestern’s mission was to slow down UD’s fast break and prevent points in the paint, two of the Flyers’ best offensive weapons. The Wildcats succeeded by giving up only 16 points in the paint and seven on fast breaks. And Northwestern outrebounded the flyers, 36-25.
Just call it a Tale of Two Halves, but a spirited flurry of a comeback by the Flyers in the second half fell short.