March 17, 2022 

“That’s why it’s called March Madness”: Dayton hopes its First Four win is the start of an NCAA Tournament run

The Flyers look to build on their 88-57 win over DePaul

Dayton entered its matchup against DePaul, averaging 65.6 points per game, knowing something would need to be done to keep up with the country’s best scoring offense. 

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“We want to play fast, not DePaul fast, but we want to play fast,” Dayton head coach Shauna Green said Tuesday afternoon. 

The Flyers emerged from the matchup victorious, defeating the Blue Demons 88-57, setting up a game against Georgia on March 17 at 7:30 p.m. 

While Dayton typically plays a slower pace against Atlantic 10 teams, the Flyers picked up their offense while continuing to execute the team’s potent scoring defense that entered the game 16th in the nation. 

“We put it all together,” Green said after the win. She later added, “We talk all the time, defend, rebound, run, and today was the best performance of that in a while because we were able to really get our transition going and got a lot of threes out of transition and played with great pace.” 

Dayton was electric from three, finishing the game 13-23 from behind the arc, including 11-13 during a game-defining first half. Graduate students Jenna Giacone and Erin Whalen combined for 11 of those threes. 

Both players have grown and developed while at Dayton. But they have also had their struggles. 

Giacone has had to adjust from being a regular starter and the A-10’s Most Improved Player during the 2020-21 season, to a role that changes depending on the matchup. She has also battled injuries throughout her career.

“We didn’t even know if she’d be able to play,” Green said Tuesday night. “If you would have asked me after her sophomore year if she would play her whole career, I’d say you’re crazy.” 

Whalen, who scored a career-high 28 points against DePaul, including 7-12 from behind the arc, has remained relatively healthy in her time at Dayton but struggled in February and early March, going 2-27 from behind the arc in five games between Feb. 16 and March 4. 

“I was so happy for Erin because you will not find a harder worker out there,” Green said. “She is in the gym non-stop. There’s times we have to tell her to get out of the gym because, especially when she was going through the rough patch that she had that you guys alluded to last night, she was in the gym making 300 threes a day; going to practice, non-stop.”  

Green also noted it was the first time in a long time that both Giacone and Whalen shot well on the same night, something she hopes she’ll see Friday night again. 

For both Giacone and Whalen, it was their first NCAA Tournament win, and for Whalen, it was also her first tournament game. Erin enjoyed the feeling of winning a tournament game but knows the team has a lot more left to accomplish. 

“I just was honestly super excited just to be here, but like I said earlier, we’re here to not just play but to compete, and so we’ll be able to kind of recoup and take that energy and momentum that we were able to gain from this game and just kind of push forward,” she said. 

Jenna felt similarly, noting that she, Whalen, and Araion Bradshaw came back for another year, not just to make it to the NCAA tournament, but to win games in it.   

Green tells her players to enjoy and appreciate the wins, but there’s a blank slate when a new day comes. However, the exception to this is riding the momentum from the win over DePaul through the rest of the tournament. 

She noted that the team came in to watch film on Wednesday, with a focus on the goal to go 1-0 today and go 1-0 tomorrow. 

“I feel like we’ve been like trained for it,” sophomore Makira Cook said Wednesday afternoon. Like, we’re used to handling business one day and getting right back focused and doing what we have to do the next. So it’s just a constant staying focused mode.” 

Heading into Friday’s game, Green and her players like the matchup. 

“For the most part we believe that it’s a fairly good matchup for us,” Kyla Whitehead said. “They have true bigs, they have good guards and we have true bigs and we have good guards. I think at the end of the day it’s just going to come down to who works harder for 40 minutes and who executes and who is more focused.”

Green believes that her athletic guards will be able to guard Georgia’s guards and that her post players can match up against Jenna Staiti and noted that turnovers will be key as the Lady Bulldogs force 17.7 turnovers per game. 

The Flyers average 12.5 turnovers per game but had just nine against DePaul; a trend Dayton will need to continue to compete with Georgia. 

Cook believes that Dayton’s success starts with defense.  

“Defense is our most important thing,” Cook said. “And once we take care of that, we already know the offense is going to come. Like, everybody on the team from top to bottom can score whenever they want. So we know that when we take care of our defense like we’re going to get any shot we want versus whoever.”

Each player on the roster was able to check into the game against DePaul. And contribute to the team’s first NCAA Tournament win since its 2015 Elite Eight run, a run that’s serving as a template for the current team. 

“You carry the momentum when you have a game like this and they start believing and they start having that look in their eye, the confidence. It was the same thing when I was here in 2015 and we made a run to the Elite 8,” Green said. 

“You just saw this look and the confidence that they started getting. We’re going to take that confidence and momentum, and we’re going to prepare and we’re going to go play against a really good Georgia team. That’s why it’s called March Madness because everyone has a shot and everyone has a chance.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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