The Atlantic 10 schedule makers seem to have set a perfect trap for Saint Louis University a third of the way through the conference season with a home game against the University of Dayton (12-8, 2-4 A-10) less than 48 hours after the Billikens’ emotional matchup with No. 9 Butler.
“The conference is just outstanding,” interim coach Jim Crews said. “You have to earn a win—I don’t care if it’s home or away. It’s going to be possessions after possession. Nothing comes too easy.”
While the Billikens will be challenged by the short turnaround and their Saturday matchup should by no means be taken lightly, preparing for the Flyers is not nearly as daunting a task as one might usually expect.
Dayton’s success on a given night relies heavily on the performance of senior Kevin Dillard. Through 20 games, Dillard is averaging nearly 15 points and five assists per game despite shooting just 38 percent from the field and averaging over three turnovers per outing.
Despite finishing with double-figures in scoring in all but one game this season, Dillard is by not exactly a model of consistency, but the team’s dependency on him to create on offense has been exemplified in its last three games.
Against Fordham, the senior guard registered 22 points on eight of 15 shooting to help UD to a 96-51 win. Against lowly Duquesne, he shot only 18 percent from the field, but compensated with seven assists in his 37 minutes played. In the Flyers’ most recent outing, however, Dillard went 4-for-14 from the field en route to a 66-61 loss to Xavier.
“I think our team obviously starts and stops with Kevin,” Flyers coach Archie Miller said. “I don’t want to put him on an island like it’s all about him, but it does. When he plays well and he has the right mindset, our team has confidence.”
While the Flyers’ reliance on Dillard seems to play right into the Billikens’ hands, they also need to pay attention to junior guard Vee Sanford. Like Dillard and the rest of the Flyers’ offense, Sanford has struggled to find consistency this season, but he remains an offensive threat, averaging 13 points per game on 45 percent shooting.
“When Vee’s had really, really consistent play—great shot selection, his ability to score in and out and he doesn’t turn the ball over—it’s really difficult for other teams to match up against those two guys up front,” Miller said. “Those two guys have really been on the top of my mind as playing well.”
The Flyers’ guard duo will prove another formidable test for the Billiken backcourt, which has had mixed results against talented guard play this season. In their victory against No. 20 New Mexico, SLU was able to limit the effectiveness of the Lobos’ star guards en route to its first win against a ranked opponent since 2008. However, Rhode Island’s Xavier Munford was able to consistently shake SLU’s Kwamain Mitchell and Jordair Jett, scoring 24 points to lead the Rams to an overtime upset in Chaifetz Arena on Jan. 19.
Freshman forward Dyshawn Pierre has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers in the frontcourt, averaging nearly eight points and five boards per game.
“Pierre has established himself as a very, very confident freshman,” Miller said. “He’s physically gifted. He’s playing extremely hard for a young guy. I like what I see in him in terms of moving down the line and being a consistent scorer for us and another good rebounder.”
Dayton will be looking to pick up its first signature win of the season, as the only A-10 victories it has picked up have been against bottom-dwellers Duquesne and Fordham.