Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dayton Flyers 57 at La Salle Explorers 61 (NCAA Basketball, Atlantic 10) - January 9, 2016

My Stupid Trip got underway with a bus ride to Philadelphia and a SEPTA train to the airport where I rented a car. It is so much cheaper to rent from Philly than New York (not to mention avoiding the tolls between the two cities) that it is worth the hassle. My buddy Dom is joining me for a portion of the trip, but he is a hockey fan so I dropped him off at the Flyer game and made my way to the other Flyer game.

How could there be another Flyer game in Philadelphia? Easy, if you include the visiting team. The La Salle Explorers were hosting the Dayton Flyers in A10 basketball at Tom Gola Arena in the northwest quadrant of the city, about 15 minutes from the stadium complex. The arena is on campus but parking there is reserved for season ticket holders. Fortunately, other fans have a nearby option as the parking lot at the Shoppes at La Salle is available. From there it is about a two- minute stroll to the venue; there are also shuttle buses for those who are unable to make the short walk.

As you walk around the building to the main entrance (below), you will notice the inflatable Explorer mascot (above); it appears as if he is smoking a cigarette (or doing something else) but it is actually a telescope that some mischievous students have moved away from eye level.

The building is called the Hayman Center after the parents of a donor while the arena is named in honour of former player and coach Tom Gola, who led the Explorers to the 1954 NCAA Championship (he also won an NBA title with the Philadelphia Warriors two years later). Pavement stones are painted outside the main entrance, with one commemorating the team's recent Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Tickets are $15 for the end sections (the thin sections in the photo below) and $20 otherwise, but if you wait outside, you should be able to find a freebie or two from an alumnus. Peter from the Ultimate Sports Road Trip was in town for a hoops weekend (Penn and Temple were also home on this Saturday, St. Joseph's and the 76ers on Sunday) and while I was waiting for him, a gentleman offered me two tickets, which I gladly accepted.

The basketball court takes up the third floor of the arena. There are two staircases immediately inside the ticket gates, one to the West seats (view above), the other to the East seats. There are about 30 rows on both sides, with those near the top feeling a bit claustrophobic from the low ceilings. A few of the lower rows on the West side have chair backs but the rest is bleacher style. Before going up the staircases, take a quick look up at the photo collages of past homes of the Explorers.

The second floor is where the single concession stand is located; more important here are the display cases that feature some interesting memorabilia. Although La Salle is no longer a powerhouse team, they once boasted Lionel Simmons, who finished as the third-highest scorer in NCAA history and won the John Wooden Award in 1990 before being drafted by Sacramento. Check out some of his awards and the other history on display here.

The seating area is up another set of staircases and you will enter through a set of doors at one end of the arena. Note all the banners at the far end of the court, as well as a video scoreboard. You can also see the full scoreboard to the right; this is not clearly visible from some of the West seats, so if you want to know how many fouls each player has, sit on the East side.

For a relatively small program, La Salle draws well, nearly filling the 3,400 seats on this day, though about a third were Dayton fans. It was quite crowded, but there was space at the top of the east side, so Pete and I moved there at halftime and were joined by Gary and King from Royalty Tours.

Dayton came in at 12-2 (2-0 in A10 play) and ranked #25 in the country, while La Salle was 4-8 (0-2 in the conference). The Explorers were sporting their alternate uniform, a grey number with striped shorts that looked more like pajamas than basketball attire, while the Flyers wore all red. A blowout was anticipated and it started that way as Dayton stormed to a 13-4 lead, but La Salle began to play stall ball, essentially allowing the first 20 seconds of the shot clock to wind down before running a quick play. This strategy prevented Dayton from employing a run-and-gun offense and also allowed the Explorers to maintain their energy as they were using only six players. The Explorers went on a 10-0 run to take a 14-13 lead, and both teams scored 14 over the rest of the first half. It was awful basketball but when you have less talent, you have to resort to these sorts of strategies. Note that La Salle's starters scored all their points in the first half.

The second half was scoreless for nearly four minutes, but eventually Dayton got on track and took a 43-36 lead with 7:52 to go. But La Salle continued their strategy and over the next four minutes, enjoyed a 13-4 run to take a two-point lead at the final timeout. The upset was complete when Dayton missed four straight field goals over the last couple of minutes. A late three got the Flyers within one, but La Salle sank their final four free throws to win 61-57 and send Dayton tumbling from the Top 25.

The Flyers shot a brutal 30.9% from the floor (17-55), while La Salle made 20 of their 46 shots (43.5%). It is not often that you see such a discrepancy in shot attempts but Dayton grabbed 20 offensive boards; but they couldn't turn those second chances into points. The five Explorer starters each scored in double figures, with Jordan Price leading the team with 17. They played all but 15 minutes, with Karl Harris coming off the bench to contribute nothing but 2 fouls. They had three other players dressed, but none of them even got a sniff. Good coaching from John Giannini, who had a plan and got his players to execute it.


This game started at 2 and the Penn game started at 4:30. If this game had started an hour earlier, I might have chosen Penn instead of Reading hockey, but I did not want to arrive late (Peter arrived 5 minutes after tip-off, but the game went to overtime so he got those five minutes back). So I'll return to Philadelphia sometime for Penn, Drexel, Temple and Villanova as I get serious about college basketball.



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