MEMPHIS — The bodies never stopped coming.
Dayton coach Archie Miller sent them marching from the Flyers bench two and three at a time.
From the other end of the floor, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins had no idea how to handle so many reinforcements.
“They were relentless,” Dawkins said. “They came in in waves. They had two players at every position.”
They weren’t just pawns on the frontline. They weren’t on the floor to eat minutes, take fouls, and give teammates a chance to catch their breath.
They were playmakers.
Kendall Pollard came off the bench and attacked Stanford’s defense until he either got a dunk or free throws.
Scoochie Smith was the setup artist, coming in and finding teammates for layups.
Vee Sanford didn’t make a shot, but he didn’t have to. His job when he stepped on the floor was to wipe the glass until it gleamed.
The 11th-seeded Flyers knocked off sixth-seeded Ohio State and third-seeded Syracuse to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1984. They did it by overwhelming two of college basketball’s Goliaths with their depth. When he watched film of Dayton, Dawkins knew the Flyers presented a challenge unlike any other team he had seen.
“It’s unique, because not only are they putting bodies out there, but they all are capable. I watched them on tape and I was really appreciating what they do,” Dawkins said.
After swallowing an 82-72 loss, 10th-seeded Stanford was left feeling outplayed and outnumbered.
Junior guard Jordan Sibert (team-high 18 points) was one of eleven Flyers to get in the scoring column. Seven players combined for Dayton’s 19 assists. All but one player who saw the floor grabbed a rebound, and ironically it was the tallest player on Dayton’s roster, Matt Kavanaugh, who finished with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
The group effort pushed Dayton to its first trip to the Elite Eight in 30 years. Having won 13 of their last 15 games, the Flyers (26-10) are one of the hottest teams left in the NCAA Tournament. Miller said he realized months ago that his team’s strength was in the sum of its parts.
“I think you have to have a feel that at some of our best moments we stuck with everybody,” Miller said. “At [times] when the games are bigger and the moments are bigger, you sort of go with the guys that have been there the longest. But at the end of the day, this team isn’t built that way.
“It’s worked out well for us. I don’t think that every team is that way . . . They don’t get up or down if they don’t get in the game. They just come ready.”
The Flyers are the first No. 11 seed to reach the regional finals since VCU in 2011.
The last time Dayton reached the Final Four was 1967. In order to punch their ticket, the Flyers will have to pull off one more stunner against top-seeded Florida on Saturday.
“We’re up there with the rest of the teams,” Pollard said. “We’re known right now throughout the nation as the Cinderella team, but we really believe that we are an elite team and we can compete with anyone in the country.”
It might have seemed like Stanford (23-13) was playing with the same house money as Dayton after upsetting New Mexico and Kansas, but there was a certain level of pressure on the Cardinal. High-profile alums Condoleezza Rice and Richard Sherman sat just a few rows behind their bench, hoping to see Stanford earn its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008.
When Dawkins caught a technical with just under seven minutes left in the first half, he could sense the game slipping away.
Kendall Pollard had just made a tough finish at the rim to cap a 15-4 Dayton run that put the Flyers up, 33-23. The Cardinal were in a 2-for-13 dry spell, and Dawkins decided to get in the ear of the closest referee, Patrick Adams.
Dawkins was hit with a tech, for what was explained after the game as unsportsmanlike conduct directed at the officials. Dayton guard Dyshawn Pierre knocked down a free throw to put Dayton up 11.
The Flyers built a 42-32 halftime lead largely because of how they locked down on defense. After connecting on its first four shot attempts, Stanford went 5 for 23 the rest of the first half.
Their leading scorer, Chasson Randle, labored for his 21 points, going 5 of 21 from the floor.
Stanford was more than outmatched, it was outmanned.
“People have been doubting us and not giving us a lot of credit,” Sibert said. “But I know these guys. We all want to win. No matter what, we just want to go out there and show people that we can compete with anybody and handle anybody. We’ve just been doing that and we just want to keep it going.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.