COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The game was 70 miles from Dayton’s campus, but it might as well have been across the street.
Cheered by a loud, partisan crowd from just down I-70, Dayton rolled past Providence 66-53 on Friday night to grab another NCAA Tournament victory and move on to the Round of 32.
The Flyers (27-8) were playing their fifth game in eight days, including a First Four win on their home floor.
This time, they had a short bus ride to get to Nationwide Arena, where they were backed by a raucous crowd of 17,584 — most of them rooting on their Flyers.
“It was like a home game,” said Jordan Sibert, a little-used former Ohio State player who has turned into a rock star with the Flyers. Despite an off shooting night, he scored 15 points.
Dyshawn Pierre, who had 20 points, added, “We have a lot of fans wherever we go. We have one of the great fan bases in the country.”
The 11th-seeded Flyers (27-8) will face Oklahoma on Sunday night, with a chance to reach the round of 16 for the second straight season.
Sixth-seeded Providence (22-12) could not overcome early foul trouble on Big East player of the year Kris Dunn.
In the first game of the day West Virginia held off 12th-seeded Buffalo (23-10) 68-62 to ruin the Bulls’ NCAA debut, while Maryland put the clamps on a final chance by 13th-seeded Valparaiso (28-6) in a 65-62 victory. In the third game, Oklahoma never trailed in holding off 14th-seeded Albany (24-9), 69-60.
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (24-9) advance to meet No. 4 Maryland (28-6).
UNLIKELY STAR: Maryland senior Verun Ram, a 5-foot-9 former walk-on, had played 55 minutes this season coming into the first round of the NCAA Tournament. His biggest contributions came in practice, when he would pester star freshman point guard Melo Trimble.
With 13 seconds left and the Terps needing a stop to hold off Valparaiso, Ram entered the game for the first time and his steal thwarted Valpo’s last-shot attempt in a 65-62 win.
“It’s a situation I’ve been in. Obviously not in a game of this magnitude, but I’ve played defense for one possession before. At the end of the halves or the end of games,” Ram said, unable to contain his smile as he stood in front of his locker.
When Valpo’s final play broke down, Keith Carter went up for a 3 in the corner, but Ram reached in and smacked the ball away — seemingly getting some of Carter’s arm in the process.
“I thought so,” Carter said.
Not Ram. “I think I got it clean,” he said.
SHREWD NON-MOVE: Tarik Phillip wasn’t even supposed to be on the floor.
Phillip hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left while the shot clock was winding down, adding the clinching points in West Virginia’s win.
Coach Bob Huggins put Phillip out there for his defense and rebounding.
“It wasn’t for him to take the shot,” said Huggins, in his 33rd year as a head coach and his 21st NCAA Tournament.
Phillip, a sophomore averaging 3.8 points a game, felt he had to redeem himself.
“The previous possession I got my shot blocked, so I was just thinking to get it up,” he said. “When (Juwan Staten) found me, I just thought, ‘Get it up on the rim.'”
The best part is that Huggins meant to put in a better offensive player for the possession but forgot.
“My absentmindedness probably won the game,” he said with a wry smile.
WORTH THE WAIT: The closest TaShawn Thomas had ever come to experiencing the NCAA Tournament was watching it on TV.
He made the most of finally getting his moment on the big stage.
Thomas powered his way to 18 points inside.
“It just feels so good right now, to get the first win, play good with your teammates and just being able to extend your season a little bit longer,” he said. “I feel ecstatic right now.”
Thomas transferred to Oklahoma last June after averaging 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for three seasons at Houston. He made the move due to a coaching change and the NCAA did not make him sit out a year.
“TaShawn probably had a little different edge to his practice all week,” said coach Lon Kruger. “He was telling the other guys, ‘This is pretty special.'”
JUMP SHOTS: Buffalo, coached by former Duke star Bobby Hurley, got in as champion of the Mid-American Conference Tournament. … Xavier Ford, playing his final college game, led the Bulls with 16 points. … Maryland will try to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2003 against West Virginia. Terps coach Mark Turgeon took Wichita State to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. … With Valparaiso losing, that meant the Drew family was eliminated from the NCAAs. Scott Drew, brother of Valpo’s Bryce, is the head coach at Baylor, which was knocked out by Georgia State. … Kruger became the first coach to guide five schools to victories in the NCAAs (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and the Sooners). … Dayton coach Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, led the Flyers to the Elite Eight last year. Sean, a good friend and former assistant to Ohio State’s Thad Matta, leads his Wildcats against Matta’s Buckeyes on Saturday for a shot at the Sweet 16.
AP Sports Writer Ralph Russo contributed to this story.
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