MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Stanford wanted to pound the basketball inside and score. Dayton pounded back and scored more.

Stanford wanted to play defense by staying in front of Dayton and allowing no drives to the basket. Dayton did not follow Stanford's request and drove to the basket.

Stanford wanted to keep advancing in the NCAA tournament. Dayton was the team that did, in an 82-72 defeat of the Cardinal here Thursday night.

March Madness, we all know, can be both sublime and cruel. This time Stanford absorbed the cruel portion -- and the cruel math. The Cardinal was bounced from Sweet 16 into the Farewell 54 -- the number of teams eliminated as of Thursday night.

"Right now, it's just ... it's a very difficult pill to swallow," said senior forward Dwight Powell in the moments after the game, his final one in a Stanford uniform.

The pill, however, was no fluke pill. Dayton had more depth and often more energy than Stanford, to the point where Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said he tried to spur his team's defensive intensity with some too-strenuous behavior and was whistled for a technical foul.

"The ref did the right thing," Dawkins said. "I should have been 'T'd' up. But I thought it was good for my kids."

Not good enough. Stanford was trailing by 10 points at the time. It finished the first half trailing by 10 points. The strategy of taking a purposeful "T" occasionally works. More occasionally, it stands out as a "what-the-heck-I'll-try-this-because-nothing-else-is-succeeding" move.


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That said, Stanford did surge early in the second half and pulled within four points. Right about then, the A-list of Stanford fans in attendance em including football coach David Shaw, faculty member Condoleezza Rice, football alum Richard Sherman and basketball alum Josh Childress -- came alive and stood up with some noise. They weren't louder than Dayton's large contingent, but they were ready to scream.

The moment passed quickly, though. On the Cardinal's next two possessions, given two chances to pull within two points, Josh Huestis committed a turnover and Chasson Randle missed a layup. Two minutes later, Dayton was ahead by 12 points. That was pretty much it.

The Flyers from Ohio were supposedly underdogs but carried themselves like overdogs. They created turnovers, shot the ball fearlessly, passed the ball beautifully and managed to hold their own in rebounding against the taller Cardinal. Dayton coach Archie Miller shuttled his players on and off the floor in shifts. Eleven of his men played seven minutes or more. All scored. Dayton's bench outscored Stanford's 34-2.

"They came in waves," Dawkins said.

The Stanford Cardinal bench, including Stanford Cardinal’s Josh Huestis (24) in the final moments of their game against the Dayton Flyers in the
The Stanford Cardinal bench, including Stanford Cardinal's Josh Huestis (24) in the final moments of their game against the Dayton Flyers in the second half for their regional game at the NCAA college basketball tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. on Thursday, March 27, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

"From top to bottom, they just kept coming," Miller agreed about his lineup. "The way they shared the ball, moved the ball, pressured the ball ... it gave us a chance."

Stanford's only bench points came on two free throws by reserve forward John Gage. The Cardinal roster was not built the same way as Dayton's roster. So when Stanford big men Stefan Nastic and Powell found themselves in foul trouble, the Cardinal found themselves in real trouble.

They did keep playing hard, refusing to be blown out. But with 47 seconds remaining in the second half, Dawkins pulled almost all of his starters off the floor and conceded. The Cardinal faces were dour, but they shouldn't be ashamed. They were a No. 10 seed that overachieved -- and were just the fifth Cardinal team ever to reach the Sweet 16 (not counting the 1942 Stanford team that won the national title with a much smaller bracket).

"They left their legacy," Dawkins said of his squad. "That's something to be proud of, and I was very proud of them and their effort all season long."

Against a Dayton team that had more assets, that effort came up short. A symbolic sequence occurred with two minutes remaining when, emerging from a timeout, Stanford stole the ball and took three shots at the hoop from within four feet of the basket -- and missed all three.

Stanford didn't want to end this season that way. But by then, it was already next season.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.