Senior night was full of surprises.
First, former coach John Chaney joined current coach Fran Dunphy at center court in a pregame celebration honoring seniors Dion Dacons and Dustin Salisbery.
Then, Dayton – owners of just one road win all season – spoiled the night by topping the Owls, 73-65, at the Liacouras Center Wednesday.
“That was probably the worst it could have been,” Dacons said of his final home game. “We couldn’t have played [worse] on offense and defense. All-around terrible game.”
The loss dropped the Owls to 12-16 overall and 6-9 in Atlantic Ten Conference play. It secured their first losing conference record in the 25 seasons that they’ve been a member of the A-10.
The Owls shot just 30 percent from the floor in the first half. Dionte Christmas finally hit the team’s first field goal, a three-pointer nearly seven minutes into the game.
The Owls committed 10 first-half turnovers, and if not for Dayton’s 35 percent first-half shooting, might have entered the second half with a much larger deficit than the 31-21 score.
“We feed off of scoring,” Dacons said. “And if we’re not scoring we’re going to be in trouble.”
“We stunk offensively off the bat,” Dunphy said. “I think we were selfish offensively early on, which led to easy baskets by them.
“We do have that in our personality – that we can sometimes think that we can win the game all by ourselves. And that’s not something we can do. We don’t have that in our makeup.”
The Owls shot better in the second half, hitting 44 percent of their shots. But Dayton (17-11, 7-8) matched the Owls, shooting at a 46 percent clip. It was too late for a comeback.
“Once again, we didn’t put together a 40 minute game,” Salisbery said.
Down 59-47 with six minutes on the clock, the Owls staged a comeback. Using a full-court press, they forced three Flyers’ turnovers to pull within six, at 64-58.
But with 1:24 left the Owls couldn’t get any closer.
The Owls conclude the season on the road Saturday against Fordham, a team that beat the Owls’ on senior day last season.
Dacons said he wouldn’t mind avenging the loss for former players Mardy Collins, Antywane Robinson and Nehemiah Ingram.
“I think it would be a confidence builder, if we could go ahead and beat Fordham on their senior night,” Dacons said. “We can’t afford losses right now. We’ve got to go out and play harder than we played tonight or we won’t have too many more games left.”
When asked what senior night meant to him, Dunphy responded that he felt it placed unwarranted pressure on his seniors.
“I hate senior night,” Dunphy said. “I don’t know who made it. I don’t think we can blame this on Hallmark. But somebody decided that this is a good idea.
“It’s not. It’s not a very good idea. It puts a lot of pressure on a lot of kids, but that is by no means an excuse for how we played.”
WHEN SIZE MATTERS
For most of the season, 5-8 Chris Clark has done a solid job as the reserve point guard.
But there were two moments in Wednesday’s game when Clark realized just how short he really is.
The first occurred with 5:40 remaining in the first half. Dayton’s Marcus Johnson snatched a rebound in stride and broke up the court. Clark secured himself underneath the basket, but Johnson leaped straight over him for a layup.
The second incident happened with about 4:45 left in the game. Dionte Christmas tipped Dayton’s inbound pass from the baseline, causing the ball to soar like a baseball pop-up.
Clark jumped to grab it, but a taller, Dayton player snagged it just as it was about to fall into Clark’s hands. The Dayton player ultimately stumbled and was whistled for traveling.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.