Chris Johnson earned the 2010 NIT Most Outstanding Player Award.
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– The University of Dayton Flyers are the 2010 National Invitation Tournament champions after a 79-68 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Chris Johnson earned the 2010 NIT Most Outstanding Player Award. Marcus Johnson was selected to the NIT All-Tournament Team as well.
Four Flyers scored in double figures led by Marcus Johnson’s season-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor.
Chris Johnson scored 10 of his 14 points in the final six minutes of regulation. Johnson also added seven rebounds.
Chris Wright tallied a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Paul Williams came off the bench to score 16 points on.
This is Dayton’s third NIT title. UD previously won the NIT in 1962 and 1968. The Flyers also upped their record against BCS opponents to 10-4 and have won four straight.
Dayton finished the 2009-10 campaign 25-14 overall.
The Flyers led 45-32 after the first half of play thanks to 58 percent shooting from the field. Wright led the UD attack with 13 points, while Marcus Johnson and Williams each had 11. UD also had seven steals and six dunks, showcasing once again their transition game.
Dayton turned up its defense and held the cold-shooting Tar Heels to a pair of field goals over the final 8:09 in the first half, closing with a 17-4 run that gave the Flyers a 45-32 lead going into the break. Williams hit a trio of 3-pointers during the run, and Dayton got thunderous dunks from Devin Searcy, Wright and Marcus Johnson.
In the second half, the Tar Heels opened on a 12-1 run. The closest UNC would pull would be two before Chris Johnson hit a three-pointer and a dunk and London Warren added a lay-up as well.
BRIAN GREGORY: When you get matched up to play North Carolina and Coach Williams, you know that you're going to be in for a battle. You know, they had some tough times this year but they have been playing their best basketball of the season over the last three weeks. And I know that the last three weeks, you could tell he's really enjoyed coaching the team and just knew it was going to be a tough, tough, challenging game.
We got it off to a good start and our guys played extremely well. But we just knew the way they played that thing was going to be a battle throughout. I think the thing I'm most proud of, the way our guys battled back, and kept fighting, and this game kind of, you know, capsule of our season, you know, started off great, have some tough times and then just kind of fight through, and ends up very successful at the end. These two guys played tremendous today and we got a lot of good basketball from a lot of guys. C.J. gets hurt and we have to turn to Paul Williams, and he plays great for us. So it's a great win for our program.
I talked about how important playing at Madison Square Garden; the history of our program and put this team that is as tough as any team I've been around with, the teams that have played here in the past, is a great honor for them, and as the coach, a great honor for me.
Q. You withstood a run; what sort of turned it around for you? Coach Williams was talking about second shots, that that was sort of what made you guys be able to defend them off; what do you think helped fend them off when they made this push?
MARCUS JOHNSON: Our rebounding. They killed us on the glass, offensive rebounding in the first half. Not sure what it was the second half.
BRIAN GREGORY: Only had two the second half.
MARCUS JOHNSON: That's what our plan was to keep them off the glass and that was keeping them in the game. We just wanted to do our best job possible keeping them off the glass.
Q. What is it like for you guys as players to win this championship rather than play in the NCAA Tournament, if you had to make a comparison?
CHRIS JOHNSON: We struggled through the season but being in the NIT, we stayed positive and we have heart and character and it shows today that we are a good team and we just won a championship.
Q. If this is, in fact, the final NIT game ever with the impending expansion to 96 teams, the history of tournament and building, can you put all of that into perspective?
BRIAN GREGORY: That will be a tough one to take. You know, as the University of Dayton and this being our -- this is our eighth championship that we've played in -- might be a fitting way to end it, for us to win it. You know, as I said, our national brand, in a lot of ways, was built right here in Madison Square Garden with Tom Blackburn and Coach Donoher and all of those great players that played for those two guys. Obviously things have changed a little bit. But the one thing that doesn't change, when our teams put on their Flyer uniform and we play here in Madison Square Garden, we get after it, and it's important. I think we proved that over the last couple of days.
To be honest, that's one of the great things about this tournament. As I said, we disappointed ourselves during the year. We didn't blame any committee or anything like that. And so we looked at it as an opportunity; how did we want to end, how did we want to go out. Those seniors said they wanted to go out doing something very special. You know, every win, I said they answered that and then they put an exclamation mark, who knows; tonight, can you put two exclamation marks or three? But they set themselves apart in the program, they are all-time winningest class in the program or tied for it. When you look at them individually, maybe you wouldn't think that that class could do that, but the one thing you can never measure is their heart and they have got as big a heart, if not bigger, than any team I've ever been around.
Q. What happened to Chris's hip, and when you put him back in the game, that's when North Carolina went on their 12-1 run.
BRIAN GREGORY: Yeah, you didn't ask him that though when he was up here.
Q. Got him on the court. Were you concerned putting him back in, seeing what happened and what do you think of the way he responded in the final three minutes?
BRIAN GREGORY: He got a hip pointer -- he makes a great play in transition on the dunk. He's a sophomore, so now he's all jacked up and, you know, he just runs over three guys the next play. He thinks he's going to get a dunk. Again, you're playing North Carolina; maybe once, but you ain't getting it again. He landed funny on the hip. That's how he got hurt. The doctor did a great job with him and told me at halftime he was ready to go and now all of a sudden (Will) Graves hits two 3s on him and we miss a couple of shots. But the one thing Chris Johnson is, is he is a tough kid. You know, he's a coachable kid. You can coach him. When I say that, and as I said the other day, he doesn't mind hearing what he's not doing well, and he listens and then he goes out there and does it. He hit a couple of big shots for us.
He's still a sophomore, so he makes them -- I don't like to use the word dumb, but he makes some plays that he shows his youthfulness; you're up nine and shoots that three with two minutes to go. Sometimes that's just kind of who we are. But then he gets two great defensive stops, comes up with some rebounds and keeps the ball moving. So I trust him. I think he's got a chance to be a great player here, and what a great way to go into your junior year being named the MVP of the NIT, you know. So I'll be able to challenge him quite a bit this spring, I guarantee you that.
Q. Even though North Carolina, it's not a typical year for them and even though the A-10 is considered one of the better major conferences around, do you consider this championship as carrying the torch and it's a victory for mid-major basketball in a way?
BRIAN GREGORY: That's semantics, if that's the right word. We are not a mid-major program. What defines that? We get 13,000 people at every game, we have great facilities, better than a lot of teams. Our guys get shoes, meal money. We don't travel by bus, you know what I mean. Those players look like mid-major players to you? I have nothing against mid-major; so you know you fall into that -- there's the BCS and we are a notch below that. We have done a pretty good job against BCS teams the last couple of years though. Why is that? Our guys are good enough to play at that level but maybe they are missing something, just one thing. But again, maybe that's a skill or one aspect of the game. Our guys have BCS major college heart and character, and that's why we have been successful. And that is still North Carolina. I know they struggled this year and I know they struggled because maybe they didn't play well together, but that is a Hall of Fame coach and that has four or five All-Americans. We beat a very talented team and we had to play exceptionally well to do so. It's great for our league, you know what I mean, you can say the run Xavier had, out of conference, what our teams have done, and then us now in this, we just beat a team from the BIG EAST, Big Ten, the SEC and now the ACC.
If that was like during the regular season, it would be, you know, the biggest news in the world. And not one of those games was at home, because those teams won't play us at home. That was a little dig right there in case you didn't catch that one. (Laughter).
Q. Can you explain what you told your team in the time-out after UNC went on a 7-0 run to start the second half?
BRIAN GREGORY: No, I can't. (Laughter). You know, the one thing -- here is the deal with our guys, because I love them, and they are so predictable it's unbelievable. They wanted to start cutting down the nets right then at the start of the second half. They were so excited about winning this championship. It was like, you know, "Let's get this game over with." And that's their strength and that's also their weakness. And it wasn't like they thought the game was over and they didn't have to play, but now they are going a hundred miles an hour trying to make great plays. Defensively they wanted to -- you know, at that time, that's when you need to really hunker down into what you do well and for us that's defend and rebound and take advantage of open-court situations. And we didn't defend or rebound those first three minutes. We did not get our transition defense back. They had four dunks in the first three minutes. I thought about taking a time-out, there was the problem with the one guy that they had to review the thing, and we just ran one of our sets that kind of slows us down and we got a wide open three and Marcus, the senior knocked it down and gave us a little -- okay, we are all right. Then we just kind of kept battling from there.
Q. There's a chance this may be the last game ever in the NIT Tournament if the NCAA field expands to 96, but being the last team potentially, what does it mean to you?
BRIAN GREGORY: It means a great deal. I answered a little bit of that earlier, due to our tradition here; fitting that if it is the end, we'll be very proud to be the last champion in the postseason NIT, especially being -- you beat Cincinnati, Illinois, Ole Miss, North Carolina, that's a pretty good deal. I love this place. This is great. I mean, this is a great place. I love our fans; it was like a home game. They were fantastic. They were simply unbelievable. Hey, we put them through a lot this year, I'm not going to deny that. And to have all of those guys come out, the fans today, everybody was in red; it was good to see.