The Dayton Flyers may have stunned Ohio State on the court Thursday, but locals have been stunned by the support the Flyers have gotten from their fans. Everything in the Buffalo media has been about Syracuse because of their close proximity and the Cuse’ media mafia who work in this town. Yet, Dayton has shown that their program is truly “mid-major” and an example of how big a college team can be in a town without a professional franchise.

I know a little something about the Flyers because I’m a Dayton graduate and experienced first hand the love affair that town has with the University and the mens basketball team in particular.

Dayton is not a big town, only 142,000 people, but they pack UD’s 13,500 seat arena whenever the Flyers play. On those nights the Dayton Flyers are the only game in town and the arena is filled with local notables and community leaders. The strong fan base has no problems traveling 6 1/2 hours to Buffalo to show their strong support.

Initially the Dayton University athletic department picked a bar/restaurant close to the First Niagara Center for fans to gather before and after the first round game against Ohio St. The response was so big that they changed the pre-game gathering spot before Saturday’s match-up with Syracuse to a large ballroom of a local hotel.

The Dayton basketball program has flirted with greatness over the years with numerous NCAA and NIT appearances. The Flyers have had some good runs in the NCAA’s with an appearance in the elite eight in 1984, sweet sixteen in 1974 and dropped the national Championship game to UCLA in 1967 with Don May.

That 1974 team knocked off 2nd ranked Notre Dame and Coach Digger Phelps at home during the season and then dropped a triple OT game against UCLA and Bill Walton in the NCAA tourney. That team had future Portland Trailblazer star Johnny Davis on the roster.

When I first arrived on the Dayton campus as a freshman I had grown up watching Calvin Murphy and Bob Lanier play in the “Little Three”. I had seen big time college basketball in my backyard, but the atmosphere at UD’s Arena certainly was impressive. Legendary  Dayton Coach Don Donoher had a great program and winning was expected.

The Flyers have now found their niche in the Atlantic 10. Year in and year out Dayton manages to be a top 50 program and serve as a staging point for Coaches to make the move to the elite level.

The win over Ohio State will mean regional bragging rights and serve as a useful recruiting tool for a few seasons, but even if they had lost that game the Dayton faithful will still be there next year cheering on their beloved Flyers. Go UD!

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