Brea catches fire and makes big 3 for Dayton to beat Davidson

Flyers win seven of their last eight regular-season games

Dayton Flyers guard Koby Brea’s mom, Mayra Villar, gave him his nickname — “Fuego — when he was a senior at Monsignor Scanlan High School.

Fuego means fire in Spanish. Dayton grad Dan Patrick started using “En Fuego” on ESPN’s SportsCenter to describe players in the zone decades ago, long before the second-year Flyer Brea was born. His mom may not have known about that history with the nickname, but she knew a hot shooter when she saw one.

“She doesn’t know much about basketball,” Brea said, “but whenever I would shoot, she would just say, ‘Fuego! Fuego!’ Somebody picked it up, and I kind of just went with it.”

Brea lived up to the nickname Saturday by making 4 of 6 3-pointers, including three in the second half. His final 3-pointer with 43 seconds to play gave Dayton a 78-76 lead against Davidson, and that turned out to be the biggest shot — of many — in an 82-76 victory at UD Arena in the final regular-season game of the year.

Dayton (22-9, 14-4) knocked off a team that clinched a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship three days earlier and earned the No. 2 seed in the A-10 tournament when Saint Louis beat Virginia Commonwealth 69-65 later Saturday afternoon. The Flyers will play No. 7 seed George Washington or No. 10 seed Massachusetts at 6 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

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VCU’s loss also meant Davidson won the A-10 championship outright and earned the No. 1 seed. No. 3 VCU and No. 4 St. Bonaventure also earned double byes into the quarterfinals.

Dayton closed the regular-season with seven victories in its last eight games, and the last two against Richmond and Davidson were decided in the final minute. This finish followed a last-second 55-53 victory on a dunk by R.J. Blakney on Tuesday at Richmond.

Brea’s shot came 22 seconds after Davidson guard Foster Loyer, who led all scorers with 25 points, made 3 of 3 free throws to give his team a 76-75 lead. Brea caught a pass from Malachi Smith behind the 3-point line, looked inside to DaRon Holmes II but kept the ball. Then he dribbled left and right before stepping back and shooting over the arms of Davidson’s 6-foot-7 junior forward Hyunjung Lee.

Brea made the shot one week after missing what would have been a game-winning 3-point at the buzzer in a 62-60 loss at La Salle.

“Honestly these last couple of days, I’ve just been thinking about that last shot,” Brea said. “It’s heartbreaking. I just tell himself, ‘You’ve got to keep working, and when the opportunity presents itself again, do what I have to do.’”

Brea finished with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He also made a game-tying 3-pointer with 13:16 to play in the game and a go-ahead 3-pointer with 10:07 remaining.

“We call him Fuego for a reason,” said DaRon Holmes II, who led the Flyers with 20 points. “That’s his middle name. He has fire. Once he gets hot, there’s really no stopping him. I knew that shot was going in after he did that step back.”

Dayton coach Anthony Grant said Davidson did a good job guarding Brea on the play, but Brea was able to create space for the shot.

“We felt like if we could get him a look that it had a good chance to go in,” Grant said. “That was a heck of a shot, a big-time shot. Then we had some stops at the end that made the difference.”

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Lee missed a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining, and Mustapha Amzil grabbed the rebound for Dayton. Kobe Elvis and R.J. Blakney clinched the victory by combining to make 4 of 4 free throws in the final 14 seconds.

“I told Lee, ‘You were sensational defending that 3-point shot there at the end,’” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said on the Davidson postgame radio show. “‘You could not have done a better job. That kid made an incredible shot. Then you got a great look, and it just rimmed out.’ That’s how close this game was. We did as good a job as we could, and we just fell short in those two plays.”

In a tense game that featured 11 lead changes and 12 ties, neither team led by more than six points. Davidson made 11 of 23 3-pointers (47.8%), and Dayton made 10 of 19 (52.6%). The teams combined for only nine turnovers.

This was one of the best-played games of the season involving Dayton and ranks as its third-best victory if you judge by the NCAA Evaluation Tool rankings. Kansas is No. 9. Virginia Tech is No. 32. Davidson (25-5, 15-3) is No. 43.

“We’ve been a special team,” Holmes said. “It just shows how much potential we have and what we can do. I think we can do even better than that. Going forth in the A-10 tournament and in the years coming, we’re going to keep working hard and accomplish things.”

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