DAYTON, Ohio -- Chris Johnson scored 13 points and Dayton used a 19-1 second-half run to pull away and beat Illinois State 63-42 in the opening round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
Chris Wright grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Dayton (21-12) to a 42-27 advantage on the boards. The Flyers will play at Cincinnati in the second round.
"How we went out there and played today and how we approached this tournament was really more a test of our character and pride in who we are and what we do," Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. "I didn't have any doubt how they would respond."
Dayton was coming off a conference tournament loss to Xavier that was typical of many of its losses this season. The Flyers squandered a 15-point lead in the second half, but this time the formula of a deep bench, relentless man-to-man defense and rebounding worked. The Flyers held the Redbirds to 33.3 percent shooting.
Osiris Eldridge, the Missouri Valley Conference's leading scorer, shot only 4 of 15 but led the Redbirds (22-11) with 12 points.
Dayton saw its 13-point lead cut to 42-37 with 10:27 to play, but Johnson started the Flyers' huge run with a 3-pointer.
Four minutes later, Marcus Johnson hit a 3-pointer and a pull-up jumper on consecutive trips to put the Flyers up 54-38 with 6:07 left. Dayton scored the next seven points before Eldridge hit a 3-pointer to end a nearly eight-minute field-goal drought for the Illinois State.
"We really defended well and rebounded well," Dayton's Chris Wright said. "That's a team that never quits. Down the stretch we knew we were going to have to play a lot harder."
Gregory said his players studied film more than usual the past couple days and were ready for Eldridge and point guard Lloyd Phillips.
"Yes, we had a very poor offensive night and certainly we had some shots that could have easily fallen," Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. "But over time, they deserve a lot of credit because they keep a great deal of pressure on you. They're very athletic and they're very deep. And it's a good recipe."
Dayton will play at Cincinnati in the second round. Game date and time are TBA.
Dayton's 22 NIT appearances are second only to St. John's 27 berths. The Flyers reached the finals five times in the 1950's and won the tournament in 1962 (under coach Tom Blackburn) and 1968 (under coach Don Donoher).
UD's senior class won its 90th game with the win over ISU, tying them with the class of 2004 for the second-winningest class in UD history. The Class of 1955 is first with 94.
Kurt Huelsman and London Warren tied the UD record for career games played with their 133rd game tonight. Both have played in every game of their college careers and Huelsman has started every game (all also Dayton records).
This was the 25th time in 2009-10 the Flyers held their opponent under its season scoring average. Illinois State's 42 points was a season low.
University of Dayton
“I was very pleased with the way we played today. When we watched them, we knew it would be a hard midwestern style basketball game. We knew our rebounding and defense would be key, and executing on offense. There were a couple of times where we were sloppy but our guys really executed tonight. I told our guys it would be a real test of our character and pride in how we played tonight. They play hard with great passion and great energy. I am pleased to move on and that these guys get to stick around and play another game.”
“The one thing is, Marcus Johnson is playing well for us. He was great defensively today. Give our guys credit, they came in for a lot of extra film and were really prepared. They knew the nuances of Osiris and Phillips. I told our guys we needed a total team effort in our transition defense and on the glass. I thought we really needed to have good team defense.”
“Illinois State is a well-coached team. You don’t do as well as they did in the conference without being a good team.”
“I didn’t have any doubt how our guys would respond. They have done it their whole career and this place is special to them, to me and all of us. It doesn’t eliminate the disappointment of not making the tournament, but I like how our guys responded.”
“This is a resilient group and a tough group. I am proud of them and the way they have responded to adversity. You can question this-and-that but you can never question the heart and character of this team.”
“I wanted to show my respect to the fans. The atmosphere here is great, and I wanted to show my respect in my last game at UD arena.”
“The NIT is an opportunity for us to compete. At anytime it could be over, so we have to go out and play our best.”
“We just defended and rebounded well. We knew coming into the game that Illinois State was a team that never quits.”
“We knew that we wanted to finish strong and continue to defend and rebound.”
“It is a great opportunity to play against a team in one of the best conferences. It is a great opportunity to go down there and play against a team that plays hard.”
Illinois State Quotes
“I love the way we fought back and changed the momentum of the game. I thought we settled down and got some good shots. “
“It may have hurt us not to play a game in 10 days. The real tale was their second chance points. Give them credit when you aren’t able to execute what you emphasized going into the game.”
“They are a great defensive team. Their numbers and their pressure is outstanding. We had some shots that could have easily fallen, but over time they deserve a lot of credit because they keep a great deal of pressure on us and are very athletic and aggressive. It’s a good recipe.”