The Dayton Flyers walked off Tom Blackburn Court as winners Tuesday in their final home game, as they always do. In an alternate reality, they would have jumped all over each other at center court as they did in 2016 and 2017 when they clinched Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championships at home in their final game, or posed for photos on the court with the trophy as they did in 2020 after an 18-0 A-10 season.
Instead, Virginia Commonwealth (23-7, 14-3) celebrated an A-10 championship on Tuesday on their home court in Richmond, Va. VCU clinched the outright title by beating Saint Louis 79-67, while the preseason favorite Dayton 20-10, 12-5) settled for clinching a top-four seed in the A-10 tournament with a 77-53 victory against La Salle at UD Arena.
Assuming the A-10 doesn’t get two teams into the NCAA tournament, the A-10 tournament championship is the big prize. That’s what Dayton will seek next week in Brooklyn, N.Y., after playing one more regular-season game Friday at Saint Louis.
“We’ve all been waiting for this since last year around this time,” said Dayton point guard Malachi Smith, who had 10 assists Tuesday. “We remember that Richmond game (in the A-10 semifinals). We were supposed to win that. That’s been in the back of our minds the whole season.”
Against La Salle, Dayton once again looked like a team that could win three games in three days. Of course, just three days earlier, it looked like a team that could struggle in Brooklyn. It’s been that type of season. Only time will tell what happens to Dayton next.
Here are three takeaways from Dayton’s 30th game:
1. The Flyers put the game away with a little-used lineup: Coach Anthony Grant stuck with a group that included Mike Sharavjamts, Koby Brea, DaRon Holmes II, Mustapha Amzil and Smith for nearly a 10-minute stretch in the second half. During that time, Dayton pushed a 45-39 lead to as many as 21 points.
Brea, who scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, made all three of his 3s during that stretch.
“I think the thing that you look for is guys that bring a level of energy,” Grant said. “That group was able to stretch the lead. They were able to get stops. They played well together. When you look at our year, we’ve had guys that have had to assume different roles, playing different positions. So I can’t remember that group necessarily being together on the floor for that amount of time.”
2. Dayton’s defense performed better: After George Mason shot 57.5% against Dayton in a 74-69 victory Saturday at UD Arena, La Salle shot 31.6%. Dayton had not let any opponent shoot better than 50% before George Mason. La Salle put up the fifth-worst percentage by an opposing offense against Dayton this season.
Four of La Salle’s starters combined for eight points on 4-of-21 shooting. Only Khalil Brantley had any success, and he needed 15 shots to get 19 points.
For the third time in four games, Dayton led from start to finish. La Salle did grab 18 offensive rebounds to Dayton’s eight.
“I thought we did a pretty good job defensively outside of the second shots,” Grant said. “They got they got a lot of their misses back. We were able to force a lot of misses. So there were a lot of misses to be had. We knew coming in they were the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the league. They surpassed UMass after they got 21 offensive rebounds in their last game. It’s a credit to how hard they go after it because they’re not the tallest team and the most physically-imposing team, but they compete for the rebounds and a lot of them were rebounds that were either below the rim or on the ground and some of them we had that they were able to just snatch away from us.”
3. The Flyers closed the season with a 14-2 record at home: Only losses to VCU and George Mason spoiled a perfect record for Dayton at UD Arena in the second straight sold-out season. This was the 44th straight sellout. The Flyers, who honored fourth-year forward Toumani Camara before the game, won on Senior Night for the 12th straight season.
“I’ll start by first of all just saying a huge thank you to our fans throughout the year for this unbelievable atmosphere that we created in here,” Grant said in his postgame press conference. “I can’t say it enough. I think it’s two years in a row we’ve had the gym sold out before the season ever started. So on behalf of my staff and our players, a big thank you to Flyer Nation.”
STAR OF THE GAME
DaRon Holmes II scored 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. This was his 11th double-double of the season. He’s five points short of the 1,000-point mark in his career. When he gets there, he’ll be the first true sophomore in Dayton history to reach the milestone.
STAT OF THE GAME
Dayton made 12 of 23 3-pointers (52%), while La Salle made 7 of 24 (29%). Dayton has shot better than 50% in back-to-back games for the first time this season. It made 7 of 12 (58.3%) against George Mason.
Dayton plays Saint Louis (19-11, 11-6) at 7 p.m. Friday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Mo. Dayton won the first matchup 70-56 on Feb. 10 at UD Arena. Saint Louis is 0-4 against the top three teams in the standings with two losses to VCU and losses at Fordham (23-6, 11-5) and at Dayton.
Dayton at Saint Louis, 7 p.m., ESPN2, 1290, 95.7
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