Anthony Grant: Dayton Flyers ‘excited’ and ‘grateful’ to clinch A-10 share

Dayton coaches celebrate after a basket against George Mason on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va. David Jablonski/Staff

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Dayton coaches celebrate after a basket against George Mason on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va. David Jablonski/Staff

An 8-0 run in second half helps Dayton improve to 26-2

The last time the Dayton Flyers clinched an Atlantic 10 conference championship, Kyle Davis jumped on the scorer’s table for one of the great photo ops in UD Arena history. Coach Archie Miller — in what would turn out to be his last game in Dayton — then famously denied Davis and other seniors the chance to cut down the nets after everyone else got the opportunity.

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That happened three years ago, after a victory against Virginia Commonwealth, on a dramatic night in Dayton. There was some drama Tuesday at EagleBank Arena as George Mason flirted with ending Dayton's winning streak, but the Flyers walked off the court with a 62-55 victory and a share of the A-10 title with no theatrics in the final 30 seconds — just a calm retreat to the locker room as they have done game after game, week after week, month after month.

The winning continues. The 17-game streak is the second-longest, in one season, in school history. It’s sometimes ugly. It’s never perfect. At the same time, it’s hard to criticize a team that does as much winning as this one, and coach Anthony Grant took time after the 26th victory — the most in the regular season in Dayton history — to put what this team has accomplished in perspective.

“We’re excited,” Grant said. “We’re always grateful. As I say often, we realize where we were two short years ago. Some of those guys were in that locker room the last time we were here, and we got it handed to us pretty hard. We remember that. We remember some of the difficulties we had last year. To be the position we are in now is a blessing. We appreciate having the chance to share the championship, but at the same time, we know we have more opportunities that are available to us. We want to make sure we take advantage of those opportunities.”

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No. 4 Dayton (26-2, 15-0) leads Rhode Island (19-7, 11-3) by 3½ games with three to play and needs one more victory to clinch the outright championship for the second time in four years and the second time in its history. Its first chance comes Friday when it plays Davidson (15-12, 9-6) at 7 p.m. at UD Arena.

Maybe the Flyers will celebrate more when they clinch the outright championship. Grant acknowledged the title share in the locker room after this game. That was about it.

“I think anytime you can say you’ve got a chance to win the league, it’s a blessing,” Dayton guard Ibi Watson said, “especially in a league like the A-1o. We’re happy and excited about that, and we’ll keep working.”

Watson played a big role in this victory. He scored all nine of his points in the second half, and his jump shot in the lane with 45 seconds remaining gave Dayton a 59-55 lead. That was just enough of a cushion for Dayton to survive some free-throw struggles in the final minute.

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This was a much closer game than most people expected and probably closer than it should have been considering George Mason’s standing in the A-10 (15-13, 4-11, tied for 11th place).

Anyone watching the rest of this season shouldn’t be too surprised by the score. Dayton continues to get everyone’s best shot. It was the highest-ranked team ever to play at VCU’s Siegel Center last week. It made the same sort of history at George Mason.

Dayton won 14 games by double digits in its first 17 games. It has six single-digit victories in its last 10 wins. It hasn’t been as dominant as it was early in the season, but it has been just as successful.

Dayton never led by more than eight points in this game. George Mason had the lead for a total of 99 seconds. The game turned on an 8-0 run by Dayton from the 8:16 to 7:20 mark. Dwayne Cohill had the first and last baskets in that run as Dayton broke open a tie game and built a 49-41 lead.

“We get in these situations a lot,” Watson said. “We’re trying to avoid them, but at the end of the day, we understand every win is important. During the course of the games, there are going to be runs. We believe in ourselves that we’re going to outlast them.”

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