DAYTON, Ohio — When Brad Brownell stepped on the floor of the University of Dayton Arena here Tuesday night, it was a homecoming but fresh at the same time.
Brownell coached across town at Wright State from the 2006-07 season through 2009-10 before taking Clemson’s job last spring, but never coached the Raiders here against the hometown Flyers.
The programs could never come to an agreement on a series, so it’s a bizarre twist that Brownell’s first game came on a night when Dayton was playing an NIT game at College of Charleston - a game the Flyers would’ve hosted if not for the arena’s “First Four” obligations. At tipoff, UD Arena was nearly full, with a healthy spread of orange in the stands.
They had plenty to cheer about in the Tigers’ 70-52 rout of UAB, which advanced them into a second-round East Region game Thursday against No.5 seed West Virginia in Tampa, Fla.
“I wanted to play (a game), but I also wanted to play it at the Nutter Center, too,” Brownell told reporters Monday. “it wasn't just going to be at the UD Arena. And that's fine. Dayton is blessed to have very good basketball programs in town. And that's one of the reasons why we have the First Four here, is because it's a basketball town. And I, along with a lot of people, think that those two schools should play because I think it would be great for the community.
“But I also understand each school has to do what they think is right. It's ironic a little bit that by going to Clemson I'll now be taking the team into this arena to coach, and hoping that the fans that come will be more supportive than if I had brought my Wright State team in here.”
Clemson worked out at Wright State Monday, giving Brownell a chance to visit with his former fan base and coworkers.
“It was great,” he said. “I got to see players and coaches, administrators, a lot of people came out and said hello. It was really nice. And a good chance for us to get a little work in at the same time, but also for me to reconnect with some people that I hadn't seen in a while.”
Brownell’s top assistant, Billy Donlon, took over for him at WSU. The Raiders finished 19-14 and didn’t make a postseason tournament, but Brownell said he’s confident Donlon can continue the work he’s done.
“Billy and I are close,” Brownell said. “I think Billy is a terrific coach and I think he did a great job this year. We had some good seniors there this year, but several guys got hurt. We had some young players to bring along. I really liked the freshman class that he has, and I think they're going to be good. But there's always a change.
“So Billy and I talked every week. I would talk to him and pick his brain about things that he was doing, and he would do the same with me. And, you know, I was very blessed to have him as an assistant for eight years. He helped me a lot in my success, and I owe him a lot for that and we're going to remain close for a long time.”
Bulldogs bounced: Before Clemson and UAB took the floor, UNC-Asheville bounced Arkansas-Little Rock from the tournament with an 81-77 victory. UALR led by as many as 11 points in the first half before UNCA tied the game late in the half, but the Trojans held a 37-33 halftime lead and led virtually the entire second half before Matt Dickey’s 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds left tied the game. They took control in overtime late, with J.P. Primm’s two free throws sealing UALR’s fate.
Welcome back: Tuesday marked Clemson’s fourth straight NCAA appearance, the longest streak in school history. Brownell became the first coach to take Clemson to an NCAA bid in his first year. He’s done that in all three of his head coaching stops (UNC-Wilmington and Wright State).
Seven Tigers entered Tuesday with NCAA experience; Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant had played in three games apiece. Stitt was averaging 12.3 points per game in NCAA play and is the only senior to play in all four NCAA Tournaments, as well as the first player in Clemson history to start on four NCAA teams. By comparison, he averages 10.7 points per game for his career.
We meet again: Brownell and UAB coach Mike Davis faced off for the second time in NCAA play Tuesday. Their first encounter came in the second round of the 2002 tournament, when Davis was Indiana’s head coach and Brownell an assistant at UNC-Wilmington. The Hoosiers beat UNCW 76-67 and advanced to the NCAA finals, losing to Maryland.