Saturday, March 21, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Dayton is haunted by Bob Huggins no longer. Chris Wright scored a career-high 27 points to lead the 11th-seeded Flyers to a 68-60 win over sixth-seeded West Virginia on Friday in the Midwest Regional, their first victory in the NCAA tournament in 19 years.

Charles Little added 18 points for once-mighty Dayton (27-7), which had been 1-13 against Huggins’ teams dating to his days storming up and down the Cincinnati sideline.

These Flyers aren’t as easily intimidated by his huffing and puffing.

They’ll play third-seeded Kansas in the second round Sunday. The Jayhawks defeated North Dakota State 84-74 earlier in the day.

Darryl Bryant had 21 points and Devin Ebanks added 14 points and 12 rebounds for West Virginia (23-12), which had won at least two games in the NCAA tournament in each of its last four appearances.

Wright, the highest of the Flyers from Dayton, threw down a one-handed goal-shaker off an inbounds pass and then a soaring tomahawk dunk in transition to give them a 46-37 lead with 14 minutes left in the game. He converted two three-point plays off dunks, with a vocal voice in the Dayton crowd _ his mother Ernestine Grigsby, perhaps? _ hollering “Put them in the hole Superman!” while the free throws splashed through.

But Bryant hit two 3-pointers, Ebanks dunked and Da’Sean Butler kissed a jumper off the glass to pull West Virginia within 48-47 with 11 minutes to play.

That’s when the Flyers really locked down defensively, holding the Mountaineers to just seven free throws over the next eight minutes to regain control.

Wright’s fifth dunk of the game, a LeBron-like hammer in transition, punctuated Dayton’s first NCAA tournament win since an 88-86 triumph over Illinois in the first round in 1990.

This was every bit the knockdown, drag-out, parking lot brawl expected from two teams run by hard-nosed coaches who stress defense, rebounding and grit as the only way to victory.

Brian Gregory’s Flyers hounded every ball-handler, contested every pass and met each cutter through the lane with a sturdy shoulder and scowl.

West Virginia got here after enduring a brutal Big East season, then beating Notre Dame and Pittsburgh in the conference tournament to cement their bid. In two short years, Huggins has remade the Mountaineers from a team that relied on sneaky backdoor cuts and 3-point shooting under John Beilein to a physical, defensive-minded club in his own image.

The officials called things pretty close in the second half, to the frustration of two teams perfectly content to trade hand checks, hip pointers and the occasional elbow down low.

Believe it or not, the Flyers used to be anything but a “mid” major. Dayton has played in the NCAA tournament 14 times, advanced to the regional semifinals six times and lost to mighty UCLA in the national championship in 1967.

Gregory was hired off Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State in 2004 to bring some consistency back to a program that had qualified for the tournament only twice the previous 15 seasons.

The Flyers made it to the tourney in Gregory’s first season, but missed the next five times before returning this year with a balanced team that regularly plays 12 to keep up its frenetic defensive pace.

Dayton was at its best in the first half against West Virginia, holding the Mountaineers to 32 percent shooting and forcing seven turnovers to take a 33-28 lead.

West Virginia’s two leading scorers _ Butler and Alex Ruoff _ both had off games against Dayton’s smothering defense. Butler finished with 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting and Ruoff had just nine while battling foul trouble.

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