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Dayton expects to run with SU

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BUFFALO — Dayton coach Archie Miller told his Flyers that today’s NCAA South Regionthird-round matchup with Syracuse “is a game that’s got to be on the run.”

The third-seeded Orange welcome that kind of up-tempo strategy with open arms.

“If they want to get up and down, we’ll match them,” said SU sophomore forward Jerami Grant. “But wanting to do that and doing it against us is easier said than done. We’re comfortable at any pace because of what we’ve seen this year.”

Dayton wasn’t able to pick up the pace much in its 60-59 upset of No. 6 Ohio State on Thursday. But Miller said the Orange are a different animal, mainly because of the team’s length and athleticism. And their ability to stymie opponents with their smothering 2-3 zone.

“The worst thing you can do against the zone is to play slowly and be too deliberate,” said Miller, the third-year Flyers’ head man. “Once they get you to the end of the shot clock, you’re in big trouble. That doesn’t mean we want to jack up the first shot available. But it does mean we want to be aggressive, attack and get as many easy shots as we can.”

One of SU’s strengths defensively is that it gets back so well in transition. “Everybody knows where they have to run back to, their position in the zone, so there’s not a lot of thinking where your man is,” said SU senior forward C. J. Fair. “Our guards are great at stopping the initial fast break, and that allows the forwards to regroup quickly.”

Miller said one of the fatal thoughts teams have when they play the zone is “that you can’t attack.

“Just the opposite is true,” he said. “We have to amp up our pace of play and have to play as fast as we do against the man. That’s the comfort level of our kids.”

Dayton’s depth may also be a factor in whether the Flyers can ultimately push the pace to their liking. Miller uses up to a 10-man rotation, using a variety of lineups, and can mix-and-match to maintain a high quality of production.

“I thought very early on that we needed to become a group that could beat you a lot of different ways with a lot of different people,” Miller said. “Along the way, we’ve developed a system that works with different people doing a lot of different things. Our depth has basically been a quest to keep our team together.”

SU coach Jim Boeheim said pace is “dictated by whoever has the ball. You make decisions on offense to take quicker shots and not use as much of the shot clock and you can up the tempo somewhat,” he said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can just get out and run all the time. You have to pick your spots and then execute well when you do get some transition.”

The key for SU is producing turnovers, getting steals and deflections that allow the Orange to get extra-man opportunities on their offensive end.

“We’d love to be able to push the ball more,” said freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. “But we’re not going to do that just because it’s possible. We have to pick our spots and make sure we are attacking when we should and bringing the ball out when we need to.”

Dayton senior Devin Oliver said the secret to attacking the zone well is simple. “You have to make good, quick decisions and make sure your passes are short and crisp. And the worst thing you can do is just settle for launching 3-pointers,” he said. “If you do that, you’re playing right into their hands.”

Or as Miller said, “their size can just consume you if you let it.”

Miller is equally as worried about SU’s suddenly revived offense as the Orange’s 2-3 zone.

“From what I saw Thursday (as SU blew out Western Michigan 77-53), they just have so many weapons and so many ways to score,” Miller said. “Ennis and (Trevor) Cooney are terrific in the backcourt, and Fair and Grant are monsters with the ability to score inside or out. If we thought Ohio State presented some defensive problems, Syracuse is a nightmare.”

The Orange was much more efficient on offense Thursday than at any time in the past 10 games. SU worked the ball to the open man, got excellent ball movement and just had a lot more energy.

“It’s all about activity, keeping the defense moving, and then executing at the end,” said Cooney, who hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 18 points. “When we’re going well, we force defenses to make tough decisions on who to guard.”

SU’s 77 points and 49 percent field goal shooting against Western Michigan were the most since the Duke win on Feb. 1. Dayton is primarily a man-to-man defensive team, but Miller said he almost certainly will mix in a little zone.

“It’s a supreme challenge,” Miller said. “I saw them in Maui for three days and I could tell then this was going to be a great team.”

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