DAYTON - After a quick 3-0 start to the season, Dayton's record shows it is on the right track in coach Jason Santos' first year at the helm. But the undefeated start is only thanks to a relentless team that has closed out the fourth quarter, despite pourus third quarters.
The Dust Devils nearly self-destructed in the championship game of the Sutro Classic at Dayton High School, but held on for a 57-51 win over Silver Stage thanks to a big shot by senior Chris Sikora in the fourth quarter.
"They came out and pressured us and we unravelled at the seams," Santos said. "It is early, but they had no idea how to run the press-breaker. Had they run that, I think it would have been a whole lot easier on us. They pretty folded to the pressure. We were lucky we had the lead we did going into halftime."
The Nighthawks (2-1) cutdown a second-quarter 38-20 lead to get within two points with 3 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the fourth. Sikora sank a driving shot off the glass to bring the game to 48-44 and then hit one of two free throws on the next possesion. Silver Stage not closer than three points after that.
"We kind of starting fighting (each other), but we held it together," Sikora said. "Our press-breaker, we did terrible. They're a good team, though. They run around pretty well."
Sikora also had a key assist and hit two more free throws in the final minutes to finish 7 of 10 from the line and 13 points in the game.
Dayton was in firm control in the first half, posting a 28-17 lead. But it struggled against the Nighthawks' full-court pressure and turned the ball over eight times in the third quarter, including a string of four in row.
The Nighthawks countered with strong games from Jesse Schilling (12 points) and Mike McDonald (15 points). Schilling hit a pair of 3-pointers to help cut the lead to 38-29 with 2:00 left in the third.
McDonald hit a turnaround floater in the lane that put the Nighthawks within 46-44, but failed to hit the front of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity that could have potentially tied the game.
Silver Stage kept in the game with late second-, third- and fourth-chance opportunities off the glass, but only hit two field goals in the final 2:52.
Jake Koch led the Dust Devils with 17 points.
Dayton struggled from the line, going 17 for 30.
"I was pleased with the effort though," Santos said. "They were flying around, disrupted their offense, turned them over. I was good with that. (But) we got worked on the boards, big time. That killed us; that pretty much kept them in the game. Had they not given up all those offensive rebounds, then it probably would have been over early."