It started with a trickle during the first half of Oklahoma’s game against Albany, but by the second half, red was the predominant color in the stands – first, second or third level.
The No. 11 Flyers’ game against Providence might as well have been played 70 miles north up Interstate-70. It sure sounded like it.
“It was like a home game,” Dayton leading scorer Jordan Sibert said. “They came out. They supported. We had a great, great crown again, just like we had previously in our First four game. And we needed it.”
Dayton (27-8) opened its NCAA Tournament at home – by luck of the draw – but has plenty of tournament pedigree.
Coach Archie Miller, younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, led the Flyers to the Elite 8 last year as a No. 11 seed. The Flyers then had to replace three starters and five of their top seven scorers.
Yet, here they are again.
“I think being in the tournament with so many guys that played a year ago is a benefit,” said Miller, who 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament as a coach. “You may be shorthanded. But five players that started the game (Friday) played in an Elite Eight a year ago. I mean, there's some familiarity to the game and how it's played at this stage.”
For Oklahoma, the toughest challenge will be silencing the crowd – something the Sooners failed to do in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals.
“It's powerful,” Miller said. “I think our fans continue to be on front and center stage right now. It's a great time of the year for them to be on front and center stage. . . I had a hunch what it was going to feel like.”
Dayton had to replace a bunch of players but returned its leading scorer. Sibert averaged just more than 12 points last season for the Flyers, and his average has increased to more than 15 points this season.
He had just 15 points Friday night in a 66-53 victory against Providence but led a charge at the free-throw line. Sibert took eight free throws, hitting six, as every starter took at least four free throws.
Dayton finished with 23 more attempts at the line than Providence and 19 points.
From a matchup standpoint, the Flyers are nearly a mirror image of Oklahoma. Both teams lack substantial depth and neither have a dominant post player – when it comes to size.
The Flyers, who have lost to UMass, Duquesne and La Salle in the last six weeks, played just seven players against Providence, which is actually fewer than the Sooners’ eight-deep rotation against Albany.
None of Dayton’s front court stands taller than 6-foot-6.
“We are who we are,” Miller said. “There's no real fear of being small. I can't change the fact that we're small. But we can be nasty on defense. We can play quick. We have to play hard. And we know there's no room for error.”
Miller, who said that Oklahoma’s 3-point shooting is “going to be a whole other concern,” knows that his team doesn’t go just seven deep. Based on Friday night’s win, the Flyers go nearly 7,000 deep.