'We got hot': Down 17, Dayton runs down Nevada

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SALT LAKE CITY — With 7:39 left Thursday, 10th-seeded Nevada went up 17 points over seventh-seeded Dayton and an upset seemed all but destined, if not guaranteed.

At that point, the Wolf Pack had a 99.1% chance to advance to the second round of the men’s NCAA tournament, according to ESPN Analytics. That improved to 99.5% with 7:14 left in the game, which is right when Dayton started chipping away at Nevada’s lead.

The Flyers then went on a 24-4 run to cap the largest comeback in the NCAA tournament since 2018, winning 63-60 at the Delta Center. Dayton will face the second-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the second round Saturday.

“I thought down the stretch we got in a rhythm where the guys understood how we wanted to attack them and how we needed to make plays for each other,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “You saw guys doing a good job attacking the rim, extra pass for 3s, ball being fed to Deuce (DaRon Holmes II) inside, him making plays himself or making plays for his teammates, which is really how we’ve played.”

Nevada senior guard Kenan Blackshear described the last seven minutes as a “meltdown.”

“Can’t really put it into words really,” he said.

Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford said he never expected to see Nevada’s season end on the losing end of a 24-4 run. But a series of mistakes, including one where two players took the ball out of bounds, and “uncharacteristic things” like not rotating defensively led to their first-round exit, Alford explained.

“Really, really poor offense the last seven minutes,” Alford said. “Very poor defense. When you do that on this stage, you’re probably not going to win very many games. That’s really what happened tonight.”

Grant didn’t show any panic when the Flyers trailed by 17, and his players said that poise rubbed off on them.

“In those moments, that’s when we get the closest,” Dayton guard Koby Brea said. “I think we’ve been in those situations a couple times this year. I think we’re comfortable in those situations. When we look at our captain, our coach, we see that he’s not worried, he believes in us, everybody from the last player on the bench, every coach, they all believe in us. We believe in each other. We trust each other. We’re capable of doing those type of things.”

Added Grant: “We felt really good. We felt good where we were. We felt like we could continue to make the plays we needed to make. The guys made the plays offensively, and we were able to be disruptive defensively. Made all the difference in the world for us.”

Dayton fell behind with 2:19 left in the first half when Nevada’s Jarod Lucas gave the Wolf Pack a 27-25 lead with a step-back 3-pointer. The Flyers didn’t retake the lead until 2:01 was left in the game, when Holmes put the Flyers up 59-58. But even then, the Flyers couldn’t hold on to their slight edge. Nevada’s Kenan Blackshear, whose father, Kerry Blackshear Sr., was coached by Dayton head coach Anthony Grant at Stetson, gave the Wolf Pack the lead again 60-59 with 1:03 left.

Then, with 34 seconds remaining, Dayton Guard Enoch Cheeks hit a layup to put the Flyers up, for what ended up being for good, 61-60.

After Nevada sophomore forward Nick Davidson lost the ball during a crossover with 16 seconds left, Cheeks came up with it and was fouled. He knocked down two free throws to seal the final score.

“There was never a doubt in our mind,” Holmes said. “We went down a lot. There might be times where we argue on the floor, but at the end of the day we know we have each other. That’s what matters. If you want to win big games, you got to stick together, just with anything.”

Dayton scored 17 straight points to start its comeback run, during which the team was nearly perfect. The Flyers were 7-for-7 from the field, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range. They also went 6-for-7 from the free throw line with just one turnover. During the run, Brea had nine points, all on 3-pointers, Holmes had eight, Cheeks had six and Nate Santos had three.

While Dayton couldn’t miss, Nevada couldn’t find the basket. The Wolf Pack went 2-for-9 from the field and missed all six of their 3-pointers while not attempting a free throw.

“We have a team that can get hot at any moment, even by metrics, if you just look at it,” Holmes said. “We did a very good job with that. We got hot when we got hot. We stuck together. That’s what happens.”

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