Archdeacon: No long-range shooting, no swagger, no NCAA tournament for Flyers

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Holmes’ great game overshadowed by bad shooting, Camara’s foul trouble, late collapse as team failed to adjust

BROOKLYN — The door to the Dayton Flyers’ dressing room was closed.

Behind it, as coach Anthony Grant later put it, there was “a lot of disappointment.”

Out in the hallway, Chris Grant, the coach’s wife, wiped tears from her eyes. The few people standing around her were silent.

That made it easier — and harder — to hear the cheers coming from the Barclays Center court Sunday afternoon where the VCU players were being showered in falling confetti and colorful streamers before they huddled together and hoisted the gleaming Atlantic 10 tournament championship trophy toward the heavens as their black-and-gold clad fans roared in delight.

And that piece of shiny hardware was but a preliminary bauble to the day’s biggest prize: A bid to the NCAA tournament.

With a major second-half collapse, the Flyers lost an 11-point lead, shot a season-worst 13.6 percent from 3-point range and missed their last 15 shots as they fell to VCU, 68-56, in the title game.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

The loss cost the 22-12 Flyers their only chance to make the NCAA tournament, which as Grant later noted: “At Dayton that’s always the goal.”

And yet, the Flyers have not played in an NCAA tournament since 2017, although that drought gets one asterisk.

In 2020, the Flyers certainly would have been a high seed invitee. They were 29-2, went unbeaten in the A-10 regular season and were ranked No. 3 in the nation. But the tournament was cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.

Afterward, Flyers star Obi Toppin was named the National Player of the Year and Grant was the National Coach of the Year.

If that season — except for the ending — had a plethora of good times, this year was often the flip side.

Start to finish — from the personal tragedy the Grants suffered with the loss of their daughter 10 months ago, to the injuries that sidelined several players at different intervals all season, including Sunday – it was a tough year.

The fade against VCU in the title game was especially disappointing.

Not only did the Flyers make only one of the last 20 shots they took from the field, but they were ice-cold from long range all game long, making just 3 of 22 attempts.

They needed an outside scoring threat to help DaRon Holmes inside. He had a monster game — 28 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocked shots — and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He was the first player from a losing team to be so honored since Pat Carroll of Saint Joseph’s in 2005.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Holmes was even perfect from 3-point range, going 1 for 1.

Meanwhile, UD’s usual long-range marksmen almost never found the target. Koby Brea went 0 for 5 from 3-point range. R.J. Blakney was 0 for 4 (and 1 for 8 overall from the floor).

Malachi Smith was 1 for 8 as well, and made just 1 of his 4 trey attempts. Mustapha Amzil was 1 for 5 from long range, but did finish with 17 points.

Toumani Camara, the hero of the Flyers’ first two games here in Brooklyn, was in foul trouble most of the game and finished with six points and missed all three of his long-range launches.

This was the second time in two months that the Flyers lost a double-digit lead against VCU.

They led the Rams by 16 at UD Arena in mid-January, but lost 63-62.

VCU is now 4-0 all-time against the Flyers in the A-10 tournament, and that includes a six-point victory in the 2015 title game.

That year, though, UD still made the NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed and won two games before falling to Oklahoma.

This time though, there was no last-minute resilience.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Afterward both Holmes and Amzil noted how VCU had adjusted in the second half and was able to limit UD’s points in the paint.

In turn, the Flyers did not respond.

“We just couldn’t fix it in the game,” Holmes said.

While the two players and Grant talked about the way the team overcame much of the adversity that came its way this season, this finish was disheartening considering they started the year as everyone’s favorite to win the conference and early on were ranked No. 21 in the nation.

What could have been or should have been was now out of their reach, and that was tough to swallow.

“I feel like we really do have a March Madness caliber team,” Amzil said quietly.

Beyond that, the future may be just as iffy.

A couple of players may opt to turn professional and some may be tempted by the transfer portal and a program that regularly makes the NCAA tournament or at least offers a higher-profile stage.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Holmes said he’d talk it over with people in the know, starting with his UD coaches.

Amzil talked of the trust and appreciation he and his teammates have for the coaches, especially Grant.

And before he left the postgame press conference, Holmes took one last look back:

“What’s made our team the best, I believe, is all the adversity we played through. It was a learning experience for us throughout the year. And I think we did a good job of maintaining our swagger throughout the year.”

That may have been true, but on Sunday nothing ended up the way it should have for the Flyers.

And when the team finally left the dressing room, several players had the hoods of their warmups up. There were no smiles. No talk.

There was no swagger.

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