Friday, January 29, 1999

Dayton finding heartbreak in would-be breakout season

Flyers had NCAA hopes

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It has been nine years since Dayton went to the NCAA Tournament, and fifth-year coach Oliver Purnell thought his Flyers might just return to the big event this spring.

        But the Flyers have had an unexpectedly rocky season.

        UD has an opportunity for a big victory when it plays host to Xavier at noon Saturday (ESPN). Dayton has not lost to the Musketeers at home in five years.

        The Flyers were 8-9, 3-4 Atlantic 10 entering their game Thursday night at home against Massachusetts. They ended a four-losing streak with a victory at Duquesne last Saturday.

        “The year's not over,” Purnell said. “I'm not ready to heap dirt on our graves just quite yet.

        “It's been a struggle. There's no question about it. What we're looking forward to from a coaching staff standpoint, and hopefully a players' standpoint, is to finish strong and finish up on a positive note. If you're playing well going down the stretch and going into the (conference) tournament, anything can happen.”

        Purnell was optimistic in preseason because Dayton was coming off a 21-12 season, when it shared the A-10 West Division title with Xavier and George Washington with an 11-5 league mark.

        Most of Dayton's losses this season are to respectable teams: Miami (76-62), Northwestern (61-57), Toledo (56-55), Louisville (68-65) and Cincinnati (53-51), not to mention league opponents Rhode Island and G.W.

        “We had a stretch of seven or eight ballgames where we played very, very well, and we didn't win all of them,” Purnell said.

        That was before the Jan. 10 loss at Rhode Island (78-56), which started the losing skid.

        Off-the-court distractions have not helped.

        Tony Stanley, one of the team's stars, and teammate Stephen Bamigbola were cited for disorderly conduct after an on-campus fight between the two. In October, Coby Turner, Andy Metzler and Nate Green were involved in a fight with a fellow student, whose parents filed a lawsuit against the play ers.

        In addition, Metzler suffered a season-ending knee injury Jan. 21 against Virginia Tech.

        “He was a guy we always had in in the last six, seven minutes of the ballgame and did a great job of attacking with toughness and intelligence,” Purnell said. “Losing him is a big blow.

        “You've got to try to use that as a rallying cry, that this is just another form of adversity that we've got to get over, and we've got to pull closer together to get over it.”


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