Men's basketball: Northland grads enjoy NCAA run with Dayton

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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This week was what Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott dreamed about when the Northland High School teammates decided to cast their college lot together.

Robinson and Scott had plenty of success playing with Jared Sullinger for the Vikings. They hoped to replicate that success at Dayton.

But the Flyers hadn’t won two games in an NCAA tournament since 1984. It was a program that had trouble getting over the hump.

Now, Dayton has made it over. The Flyers are in the Sweet 16 and face fellow surprise Stanford on Thursday in a South Regional semifinal in Memphis.

Although neither sophomore starts, the 6-foot-9 forwards are part of a deep rotation.

“I’m thankful to be in this situation,” Robinson said. “It’s just a blessing to be here and to achieve things that a lot of people said we couldn’t do.”

It wasn’t the original plan for Robinson and Scott to attend Dayton. Robinson committed to West Virginia, and Scott was headed to Cincinnati.

But Robinson knew Flyers coach Archie Miller when he was an assistant at Ohio State. When Dayton hired Miller as head coach three years ago, Robinson decided to join him. He then worked to get Scott aboard.

“I didn’t really want to come because I thought he might want to branch off from me,” Scott said. “But he told me he wanted to keep playing with me and to give it a chance, and I ended up liking the program and Archie.”

Both players contributed as freshmen last season and hoped for a bigger role as sophomores. That hasn’t really happened. Robinson is averaging 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds, and Scott 3.4 points and 2.8 rebounds. Both average about 13 minutes of playing time.

“Personally, I haven’t had the season I’ve wanted to have,” Robinson said. “I haven’t played as consistently as I’m capable of. But I’m just happy that we’re winning.”

Robinson and Scott have had their moments. Scott had 13 points in a victory at Georgia Tech, and Robinson scored 17 against California at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.

In what might have been the most-important game of the regular season, Robinson nailed two late three-pointers in a comeback win at Saint Louis. He had attempted only five three-pointers all season.

“Those were almost season-changers,” Miller said. “Those were monster shots.”

Scott has had more on his mind than basketball. On Feb. 2, he became a father when Devon Scott Jr. was born. He was at the hospital for the birth when Dayton snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over George Washington.

The Flyers have lost only two games — both to Saint Joseph’s — since then.

“He’s kind of like a good-luck charm,” said Robinson, who is Devon Jr.’s godfather.

Becoming a father during the stretch run of a season is a challenge, but Scott has embraced it.

“You have some nights when you don’t get a lot of sleep,” he said. “I try to make sure I’m doing the right things so he can look back and say, ‘That’s my dad.’ I really want to leave a good legacy that he can look up to, because I look up to my dad like he’s the biggest thing since sliced bread. I hang on his every word.”

The Flyers’ late-season surge propelled them into the NCAA tournament as an 11th seed and a matchup with Ohio State. Unlike Scott, Robinson grew up as a Buckeyes fan. So to him, the victory was particularly sweet. He even got a congratulatory text from Sullinger, a two-year star at Ohio State.

“I’ve thought about coming home and wearing my jersey on the Buckeyes’ campus,” Robinson said. “I’m just joking around, but it’s a good feeling to say you beat your hometown college.”

The victory over Ohio State was followed by an upset of third-seeded Syracuse.

Against Stanford, which has a plethora of post players, the play of Robinson and Scott is likely to be crucial.

Dayton (25-10) is the lowest-seeded team remaining in the tournament, but Robinson and Scott said the Flyers are confident that they can keep their unlikely run going.

“If we were looking at numbers and chances, we wouldn’t have gotten out of the first round,” Scott said. “As long as we show up still hungry and ready to play and defend, we can go as far as we want to.”

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