Archdeacon: Dynamic duo has Dayton one win from NCAAs

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

VCU stands in the way, but Camara says, “This is the team we wanted to play in the championship. The whole team is excited for that.”

BROOKLYN — You didn’t need to go out to Coney Island for one of those storied fortune telling machines to get an early read on the wild one that transpired late Saturday afternoon at the Barclays Center.

Fordham coach Keith Urgo played the swami Friday, a day before his Rams met Dayton in their Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinal here.

“I think (DaRon) Holmes and (Toumani) Camara are two of the best players in the country, not just the A-10,” he gushed. “And I think Camara right now is playing as well as anyone in the nation. He’s been phenomenal.”

And Saturday, the muscular 6-foot-8 Camara and the 6-foot-10 dunk machine Holmes lived up to that billing in Dayton’s hard-fought 78-68 victory over the Rams in front of an electric crowd of 10,156.

Camara scored Dayton’s first seven points, made 12 of 13 field goal attempts — a field goal accuracy record (.923) for the tournament — and finished with 28 points.

Holmes added 20 points and scored six straight points down the stretch to give Dayton a slight cushion in what was a back and forth game through much of the second half.

The victory puts Dayton in Sunday afternoon’s title game against nemesis VCU, a team that is 3-0 against them in A-10 Tournament play over the years.

Urgo called Dayton and VCU “the gold standard” of the league, and he was right again as you watched Saturday’s games play out.

VCU had too much for power for Saint Louis and subdued the Billikens, 90-78, in a game that wasn’t that close.

The past two seasons, UD and VCU split their two games, but as the Rams rose this year to take the league’s regular season crown, Dayton — the A-10′s preseason favorite, who opened the season ranked No. 21 in the nation — stumbled along the way and finished the regular season 20-11, three games behind VCU.

Yet, the Flyers stayed the course and with one more victory, they’d get the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and all the slights and second guesses would be kicked to the curb.

“Sports is full of ups and downs, and some paths are harder than others,” UD Athletics Director Neil Sullivan said after the game. “We had some adversity — some of it self-inflicted, some of it just really bad luck with injuries and all — but Anthony is a very stoic person and you don’t see any difference when we’re down or when we’re ranked No. 3 in the country (as the Flyers were in 2019-20).

“He doesn’t pay attention to the noise. He brings his boxing gloves to every fight and I think that attitude rubs off.”

Camara said a title game with VCU was something he and his teammates never lost sight of no matter what happened this season.

“This is the team we wanted to play in the championship. The whole team is excited for that.”

The 22-11 Flyers advanced Saturday thanks to the unstoppable combination of Camara and Holmes, a one-two punch that at times needs a pacifier.

As he has a couple of times this season, Camara got in Holmes’ face once on Saturday and settled the over-amped big man, who had tangled underneath the basket with a Rams player and voiced his displeasure to a ref.

Camara got Holmes back on track, and the young big man broke the game open a bit with his six straight points.

(Toumani) is our captain for a reason,” Holmes said. “He’s wise, level-headed. Sometimes we get excited and talk to the refs a little bit. He just keeps us in check and makes sure our heads are focused on winning.”

Camara — who has played 124 college games across two seasons at Georgia and now two at UD — explained his approach:

“Whatever call is being called, we can’t change it. So we’ve got to move on to the next play. I feel like having somebody to remind you what is really is important and what the mission is – that so crucial.”

Another player who got back on track Saturday was sophomore forward R.J. Blakney, who went from the coach’s doghouse back onto the court, looking newly inspired. He played meaningful minutes and finished with seven points, two rebounds, an assist and no turnovers.

He only played four minutes in Thursday’s quarterfinal victory over Saint Joseph — his lone three-point miss extending a multi-game string of nine straight missed treys — and was brought to the bench, accompanied by a hard look from coach Anthony Grant.

But Saturday he got nothing but postgame praise from Grant: “He did a heck of a job. I’m really proud of R.J. today because he gave us a big lift on both sides of the ball.”

Another player who returned to the floor was Mike Sharavjamts. He didn’t play in the Saint Joseph’s game because of a bone bruise on his right knee.

Saturday he wore a long black knee brace as a protective measure, played 10 minutes and hit a three-pointer.

A few days ago, the 6-foot-8 freshman let slip he may soon have another addition to his look, as well.

He’s been letting his hair grow and said he’s thinking of adding a ponytail.

“My dad had one when he was young,” he said in smiling reference to the 7-foot Tserenjankhar Sharavjamts, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Fordham, which was playing in the A-10 semifinals for the first time since 2006, was led by Khalid Moore, who had 24 points.

Darius Quisenberry, the Rams’ fifth-year guard from Wayne High, finished with eight points and five assists. More importantly, he provided leadership in an atmosphere that was rockin’ thanks to several thousand Fordham fans who showed up and often drowned out the sizable following UD had.

A New York media person asked Camara how he and his teammates were able to handle the raucous setting, and the Flyers’ leader just smiled:

“We play at UD Arena. That’s 13,000 fans every night screaming. We’re used to that kind of environment. That’s the environment I feel everybody plays basketball for. You get the adrenaline and get excited for these moments, especially when it’s the semifinals of the tournament.”

And that too — with no Coney Island fortune teller needed — is a prelude to Sunday’s title game with VCU.

The NCAA Tournament awaits the winner.

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