Junior forward Toumani Camara was in the middle of the good and the bad all night.
He scored a career-high 27 points and had 11 rebounds, but he almost had a triple-double in the worst of ways.
He committed nine of the Flyers 18 turnovers, including one with 18 seconds left when VCU’s Nick Kern stole the ball from him near midcourt and drove the other way for what would become the winning layup.
Some 40 minutes after the game, when many of his teammates already had dressed and left the locker room, Camara, still in his supposedly, once blessed chapel blue uniform, walked down the Arena’s darkened ramp to the court, which was still brightly lit, but deserted.
He stepped out onto the floor and stood there a moment, looking toward the far end, where the roaring Red Scare students had once been, then up into the top reaches of the arena.
He was looking for something, but didn’t seem to find it and soon was trekking back up the ramp, slow and alone.
During the media session after the game, he had been asked about his “career night,” — the 27 points being the most prolific outing in his 109-game college career at Georgia and Dayton.
Studying the stat sheet in front of him before he spoke, he shook his head.
“We had 18 turnovers. I had nine,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t call that the game of my life.”
He had played wondrously for much of the game.
With VCU focused on bottling up DaRon Holmes — who had scored over 20 points in each of his last seven games, all of which the Flyers had won — Dayton needed someone else to step up and Camara had.
Before missing the final shot of the game, a contested layup just before the buzzer — he had been 10 of 15 from the floor and made 6 of 8 free throws.
He made two extra effort plays late in the game that seemed to pave the way for a UD win.
With 69 seconds left, he leaped, caught a Mustapha Amzil air ball and before coming down, tossed it in the hoop to beat the shot clock and give UD the 62-58 lead. And then he stole the ball from Brandon Johns, which meant UD had a four-point advantage and the ball with 50 seconds left.
But then came the epic meltdown.
Freshman point guard Mike Sharavjamts missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation.
Twenty seconds later, the Flyers had the ball back but Sharavjamts was double-teamed near midcourt and threw a blind pass that was picked off by VCU’s David Shriver, who promptly took a couple of dribbles and hoisted a perfect three pointer, his sixth of the half.
That brought VCU to within one and then came the steal from Camara and Kerns’ go-ahead layip.
UD finished out in chaos. There was a bobbled inbounds play, where a Camara pass bounced off Sharavjamts’ leg and out of bounds and finally, following a time out, the miss at the buzzer.
A couple of things stood out in that final-minute collapse.
With starting guards Malachi Smith and Kobe Elvis still lost to injury, UD’s lack of primary ball handlers finally showed itself in glaring fashion.
What was especially puzzling was UD’s inability to shut down Shriver, though to be fair, other teams haven’t been able to do that lately either.
But where was R.J, Blakney, the defensive ace of the team?
He’s made his bones bottling up other team’s big scorers and while he had another assignment this night, it might have been prudent to shellac him to Shriver down the stretch.
The fifth-year player for VCU doesn’t look like a lethal ballplayer at first glance with his long hair and his seemingly pliant nature early on when he came off the bench and was bullied by Camara inside.
But oh my! This guy can shoot.
His mom is a veteran coach back in West Virginia and the story goes that he was born one day and the very next day he was in the gym, in a crib, as his mom resumed her sideline duties.
Coming out of high school in Philippi, W.Va. , he got no Division I offers so he went to D-II Alderson Broaddus, the hometown school where his parents played.
After three years there he transferred to Hartford last season and led the American East Conference with 88 three pointers.
Entering the transfer portal again, he came to VCU.
Coming into the UD game, he was 9 for 11 from long range in his last two games. After going 6 for 8 against Davidson, he was 3 for 3 against Loyola Chicago last Tuesday. He made six of eight attempts against UD.
The loss snapped UD’s seven-game winning streak and also ended a 17-game winning streak at home.
The last home loss at UD Arena had been to VCU last January by one point when the Rams hit a three pointer with six seconds left.
In the six years Anthony Grant has led the Flyers, VCU– the team he once coached – has won nine of 13 games.
“This is just a learning experience,” Camara said. “I believe some teams need to get through those tough moments to be able to bounce back and be who they really are.
“We’ve got a lot of season left. Nothing is done yet.”
In other words, he’s saying don’t turn the Flyers into mammoths and mastodons just yet.