By Joe Kay
The Associated Press
DAYTON, Ohio - A dozen days after their last game, the Dayton Flyers finally get to put on their uniforms and play for real.
No more sitting and watching everyone else enjoy the best month in college basketball. No more practicing in an empty gym with no game in sight.
"It gets kind of boring for us," junior forward Keith Waleskowski said Wednesday, after Dayton practiced for its Atlantic 10 tournament opener. "It stinks. It's the time of the year when you want to get out there and play. I don't even remember what it feels like."
The 22nd-ranked Flyers (21-5) will finally get the feeling back on Thursday night in the conference quarterfinals against Rhode Island (18-10). Since they beat Fordham 69-64 on March 1, the Flyers have impatiently watched everyone else enjoy the best month of the basketball season.
"We know it's our turn come the end of the week," Waleskowski said. "We've been getting real antsy waiting for it."
They were scheduled to finish the season Saturday at St. Bonaventure, but the Bonnies forfeited their last two games after they were stripped of six wins and barred from the tournament.
The Bonnies were punished for using center Jamil Terrelll, who failed to meet NCAA junior college transfer guidelines. School president Robert Wickenheiser was forced to resign Sunday.
The Flyers, who finished second to No. 10 Xavier in the conference, wound up getting punished as well. They lost a game they wanted to play, forcing them into an unusual and unwanted late-season layoff.
"We wanted to play the game and stay in a rhythm," senior forward Brooks Hall said. "But I can't imagine playing your whole season and finding out two games before it's over that it was all for naught. I don't know that quitting was the right answer, but I definitely feel for them."
Coach Oliver Purnell tried to keep things as normal as possible during the layoff, letting them scrimmage twice last week. Instead of playing at St. Bonaventure, Purnell brought in referees and had his backups scrimmage the starters in front of a crowd of 2,100.
It wasn't exactly March Madness, but it was better than more March tedium.
"At a different time of the year, it might be tough," Purnell said. "This is March, so your mind stays a little sharper and you're watching the different conference tournaments on television.
"All of those things help keep guys motivated a little more for practice. But that is the challenge: keeping guys motivated when the game is so far away."
If they're a little out of sorts at the start Thursday night, the Flyers will have the home-court advantage to get them rolling. They've lost only once at UD Arena all season - to Xavier by one point on Feb. 22. Xavier (24-4) swept their two-game series while winning its second straight regular season championship.
The Musketeers finished the season with a 15-game winning streak, matching the longest in school history, and would like to win the conference tournament for the second year in a row. Their opening tournament game is Thursday against George Washington (11-16).
"You want to be a team that takes everything," forward David West said. "That's what we're planning to do. As far as what we've set out to do, we reached our first goal - the regular season."
The Musketeers aren't very popular in Dayton, which is a one-hour drive north from Cincinnati. Flyers fans wore red "Beat Xavier" shirts for their Feb. 22 game, which guard Lionel Chalmers won with a bank shot in the closing seconds.
Xavier has won its last two games in Dayton, and isn't put off by the prospect of facing the Flyers again in the title game on Saturday.
"I don't think the guys consider this a bad place to play," West said. "It's a good arena, a nice place to play. We've played well here."
At this point, the Flyers are glad to be playing anywhere.
"We've taken a week or two off and we're ready to get back," Hall said. "We know the opportunity that presents itself - it's the tournament and it's on our home court. We're just excited to be playing."
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C-USA Tournament Glance
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West again A-10 player of year
Dayton finally gets to play
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