As is often the case in March, Cinderella’s slipper fits. Unfortunately for the upstart Stanford men’s basketball team, it just fits the Dayton Flyers a little bit better.
A case of the Delta blues caught up to Stanford in Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday night, as the Cardinal’s dream run through the field of 68 finally came to an end in the Sweet 16. No. 10 seed Stanford (23-13, 10-8 Pac-12) was overcome by No. 11 seed Dayton’s (26-10, 10-6 Atlantic 10) superior depth and quickness, falling 82-72 in a game in which the Cardinal just could never put it all together.
Though Stanford kept the game within a few points for the first 11 minutes of the first half, cold shooting and an inability to contain the plethora of Dayton’s offensive weapons turned a close battle into a 10-point advantage for the Flyers at halftime. Despite some terrific first-half play from senior Josh Huestis and redshirt junior Stefan Nastic in the post, Stanford struggled to contain Dayton’s perimeter shooting, surrendering six first-half 3-pointers at a 46.2 percent clip.
“I thought Dayton did a really good job of executing their offense, especially in the first half,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Those kids also did a very good job of being very — they were relentless, is the best way I could put it.”
Freshman Kendall Pollard and Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert led the charge for head coach Archie Miller’s Dayton team, which reached its first Elite Eight since 1984. Pollard finished with 12 points, the first double-digit scoring performance of his collegiate career, while Sibert tallied 18 points and a team-high four 3-pointers.
Despite the halftime deficit, the Cardinal came out strong in the second half behind the terrific play of interior duo Nastic and Dwight Powell. Powell’s spinning layup cut the Flyers’ lead to four with 15:53 left to play, and Nastic’s two free throws a minute later, already his sixth and seventh points of the half, once again trimmed Dayton’s lead back to four. The Cardinal faithful was primed for the comeback.
Yet it was not to be for Stanford on that night, as Pollard and Sibert quickly responded with a layup and a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine.
Powell’s 3-point play with 8:10 remaining closed the gap to six, but as was seemingly the case every time on Thursday night, Dayton had answers for everything Stanford threw at it. The Flyers responded with a 3-point play of their own on the ensuing possession, and any momentum the Cardinal might have had after a Huestis 3-pointer with 6:03 to play was effectively sucked out of FedEx Forum when Nastic was charged with his fifth foul. Stanford would never again trail by single digits.
Dayton’s 34-2 advantage in bench scoring was too much to overcome, as it seemed as though some members of Stanford’s heavily relied-upon starting lineup, particularly the backcourt, finally ran out of gas. And even though the Cardinal was finally able to establish their dominance down low late in the game on the offensive end of the court, the smaller Flyers came away with 10 offensive rebounds and, with them, far too many second chances for the Cardinal to overcome.
“We thought our advantage was our inside play,” Dawkins said. “No matter what defense we played, we wanted to make sure the emphasis was to keep them out front and out of our paint. And that’s where we fell short.”
Junior Chasson Randle tallied 21 points for Stanford to cap the fourth-best scoring season (675 points) in Stanford history, but he wasn’t pleased with his overall performance after shooting just 5-of-21 from the floor and committing 5 turnovers. His backcourt mate Anthony Brown was unusually quiet, scoring just 4 points on 1-of-5 shooting.
The defeat ended Stanford’s deepest run in the tournament since 2008, when the Cardinal also bowed out in the Sweet 16.
Valiant efforts by senior co-captains Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis were not enough to prevent the loss and, accordingly, the ends of two brilliant careers. The duo will finish 1-2 as the all-time leaders in games played in a Stanford uniform.
Powell had 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in his final outing as a member of the Cardinal, while Huestis added 13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals as the anchor of the defense.
“First and foremost, this is very tough for us,” Powell said. “We fell short of all of our goals, and that’s always disappointing, especially when we’re done, seniors are done. We don’t have any more games.”
While all that may be true, Powell and company will have nothing to hang their heads about going into this offseason. A few years from now, it is easily conceivable that this group of players will be remembered as the ones who brought Stanford basketball back to relevance.
Nerd Nation, riding the emotion of a pair of defensive-minded upsets and the cowbell-toting magic of a senior band member, hasn’t been this strong in a while. It has one of the best starting lineups in school history — one that started every game except one this year — to thank for that.