ATLANTIC CITY- N.J. – It would have been a nice 21st birthday.
Dayton junior center Matt Kavanaugh turned 21 the day his Flyers fell to archrival and No. 6 seed Xavier 70-69 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament Friday in Atlantic City, N.J.
If losing wasn’t bad enough, the Centerville, Ohio native had a chance to be the hero. With 6 seconds left, Kavanaugh got a pass under the basket from redshirt junior point guard Kevin Dillard. There was no one around him and this score would put Dayton ahead 71-70.
He bounced it off the glass, and just when it the ball looked to go in, it decided to spin in and out.
“It was a good look,” Kavanaugh said after the game. “KD drew a double team and he found me. It was a great pass. It was an unfortunate miss.”
Kavanaugh scored eight points and gathered five rebounds in the loss. It was the closest UD has come to beating Xavier twice in the same season since the 1989-1990 season when the Flyers beat Xavier twice within a seven-day period in March to make the NCAA tournament.
Known as “Big Kav” to teammates, Kavanaugh has been one of the conference’s best offensive rebounders all year. He was averaging 3.1 offensive boards a game prior to the game.
All this after seeing his playing minutes increase from 3.1 his freshman year to 9.2 his sophomore year to 23.7 this season.
With 94 offensive boards on the season, he needed just one to pass former Flyers Anthony Corbitt (1985-1989), Keith Waleskowski (2000-2004), and Chris Wright (2007-2011) for fifth most offensive rebounds in a season with 95 rebounds.
But in a night that had the Flyers on the brink to success, that’s where Kavanaugh had to leave. One offensive rebound from setting himself apart in UD program history. It seemed like it was going to be a good birthday for the 6-foot-9-inch center, too. He recorded his second career dunk on a fast break that appeared to put the game away for UD. Then Dayton allowed a six-point lead to evaporate in the last three minutes.
Team sources said the team didn’t do anything special before the game to celebrate Kavanaugh’s birthday.
First-year head coach Archie Miller said after the game he thought Kavanaugh’s last-second shot was in.
“I had a decent enough look to think that Kav was going to make it and it rimmed out,” Miller said. “I’d like to see that last shot over again. I probably won’t look at the film ever, but that last one looked like it could have went down. Would have been nice.”
For Kavanaugh, to beat Xavier on that last shot going in might have been the best birthday present he could have given himself, especially on his 21st.