‘Big-time win’ for George Mason is latest troubling defeat for Dayton

Flyers have lost three of their last four road games

FAIRFAX, Va. — For the second time this season, fans from the student section rushed the court to celebrate with players who had just upset a ranked Dayton Flyers team.

Dayton was No. 16 when it lost 69-64 at Richmond on Jan. 27. It was No. 16 again when it lost 71-67 to George Mason on Wednesday at EagleBank Arena.

George Mason fans, celebrating the program’s first victory against a ranked team at home, jumped around with the players at center court as Dayton prepared for a handshake line that never came. UD coach Anthony Grant led the Flyers to the locker room instead of waiting for George Mason to finish its celebration.

Dayton (21-5, 11-3) headed home looking like a team that needs a break, and the schedule provides that. For the first time since December, Dayton gets an extended rest. It doesn’t play again until 7 p.m. Tuesday when 10th-place Davidson (15-11, 5-8) visits UD Arena.

“I think more than anything it’s just going to help us regroup, kind of come together and talk some things over,” Dayton guard Koby Brea said, “and just try to figure out what’s the best way for us to go undefeated the rest of the way and do what we set out to do.”

What Dayton set out to do — win the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship after being voted the favorite in October — got more difficult because of this loss. The Flyers fell from first to third place.

Loyola Chicago (19-7, 11-2) and Richmond (19-7, 11-2) lead Dayton by a half game. Richmond won 85-77 at Rhode Island on Wednesday. Virginia Commonwealth (17-9, 9-4) sits in fourth place after a 74-52 loss at Massachusetts (17-9, 8-6).on Tuesday.

After playing Davidson, Dayton closes the regular season with games at Loyola Chicago on March 1 and at last-place Saint Louis (9-17, 2-11) on March 5 and then finally a home game March 8 against VCU. Winning all four will be tall task for a team that has lost three of its last four road games. Dayton is also 1-3 against teams with winning A-10 records with losses to Richmond, VCU and George Mason and a victory against UMass.

While Dayton’s A-10 chances took a hit Wednesday, it still has a strong NCAA tournament resume. The cushion gets smaller with every loss, but unless Dayton suffers a complete collapse in the final two weeks, it should hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Dayton stayed at No. 19 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool after the loss.

“They have to keep it in perspective in terms of the goals that we set before the season,” Grant said. “We have a chance to win the regular season, have a chance to be a top seed going into the A-10 tournament and have a chance to be an at-large contender in the NCAA tournament. All of our goals are still there. We want to win every game, and this was this was a great opportunity for us and the guys are upset and bothered that we weren’t able to get it done today.”

Dayton lost this game because it was outscored 24-10 at the foul line. George Mason made 11 straight free throws during a 19-0 run that turned a 42-34 deficit into a 53-42 lead with 9:37 to play.

“We’ve done a really good job most of the year, really all of the year, being able to defend without fouling,” Grant said. “When you look at our numbers in league play alone, we’ve taken over 100 more free throws than our opponents. We’ve got guys that are pretty aggressive in terms of understanding who we are. I didn’t think that we really changed what we were trying to do. It just didn’t go in our favor today. We got in foul trouble. Early bonus for them. They were able to get stops, get out in transition.”

Dayton missed seven straight shots and committed five turnovers during the run.

“I don’t know what was going on,” Brea said. “They were getting to the free-throw line on every play. ... We’ve just got to find ways to put the ball in the basket when those things happen.”

Even though Dayton answered that run with an 11-0 run of its own to tie the game and even took a 56-55 lead on a 3-pointer at the 5:35 mark by Javon Bennett, George Mason kept finding ways to score in the paint. On its two possessions following the Bennett 3, the Patriots scored on two layups to take a 59-56 lead.

George Mason made 24 of 29 free throws. Keyshawn Hall, who scored 19 points and leads the team with 17.7 points per game, made 9 of 10. Baraka Okojie made 9 of 9 and scored a season-high 19 point.

George Mason avenged two previous losses to ranked Dayton teams on its home court. No. 4 Dayton won 62-55 in 2020. Prior to that, the last ranked team to play at George Mason was No. 24 Dayton in 2016. The Flyers won 98-64.

George Mason had not beaten a team ranked as high as Dayton since 2006 when it upset No. 2 Connecticut in the Elite Eight. It had never beaten a team ranked as high as Dayton in the regular season.

First-year George Mason coach Tony Skinn beat Dayton in his first try after his predecessor, Kim English, went 2-0 against the Flyers in the last two seasons.

“This is a big time win for George Mason Basketball,” Skinn said. “I’m proud of these guys. The word of the day is poise. Games like this you get so excited about. You know the energy and effort will be there. But you have to collectively maintain some sort of poise. That’s what we did tonight. We protected home floor.”

Dayton lost despite making 11 of 26 3-pointers (42.3%) and getting 26 points from forward DaRon Holmes II. The Flyers lost because they shot 40% (12 of 30) from 2-point range. That’s their second worst percentage of the season. Dayton shot a season-best 74.1% from 2-point range in its previous game, a 78-70 victory against Fordham.

George Mason, on the other hand, made 16 of 27 shots (59.3%) inside the arc.

No one other than Holmes scored in double figures for Dayton. Brea made 3 of 5 3-pointers to finish with nine points. Enoch Cheeks had eight points. Javon Bennett had six points and a team-best five assists. Kobe Elvis struggled to make shots. He was 2 of 11 from the field and scored five points.

Dayton now has to hope for help in the A-10 race. Loyola plays a home game against George Mason on Saturday and a road game at St. Bonaventure on Tuesday before playing Dayton. Richmond’s toughest remaining game is at George Mason on March 9.

This goes down as Dayton’s worst loss. George Mason ranks 80th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool. No. 1 Houston, No. 58 Northwestern, No. 69 Richmond and No. 74 VCU, the four other teams to beat Dayton, all rank in the top 75. Even with the loss, Dayton is one of 18 teams in the country with at least 20 victories and only five defeats.

“It sucks,” Holmes said, “but it’s OK. We’ve just got to keep moving forward. We can’t make excuses.”


Davidson at Dayton, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290, 95.7

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