Briante Weber, the fallen leader of Virginia Commonwealth, stood in the middle of the court crying tears of joys as he leaned on his crutches. His teammates found him and embraced him. A team on the cusp of an Atlantic 10 championship two years in a row finally ascended the ladders Sunday at the Barclays Center and cut down the net.
Walking past Weber and the jubilant Rams, as confetti rained, the Dayton Flyers showed little emotion. They wore blank faces with a touch of disappointment.
Bridesmaids again, just as they were in the regular season, the Flyers still had many reasons to be proud despite a 71-65 loss in a tension-filled tournament final.
“We’ve accomplished a lot,” Dayton senior Jordan Sibert said. “People didn’t think we would get this far. They doubted us as soon as we lost our players.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys. I know we’re all frustrated about the loss. Everyone wants to win. We never gave up and I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything.”
Hours later, Dayton’s emotions veered from disappointment to excitement to disbelief as they processed the NCAA tournament announcement. The Flyers made the dance, but barely. They earned a No. 11 seed and were the last at-large team chosen and will play another No. 11 seed, Boise State, in the First Four on Wednesday at UD Arena.
Dayton watched the show from Burke’s Restaurant and Bar in Yonkers, N.Y., on their way to the airport in White Plains. The Flyers headed home knowing they would play three days after playing three games in three days.
Sunday’s loss already seemed far behind them because they have no time to dwell on it. Maybe that’s a good thing because No. 2 seed Dayton (25-8) had its chances to beat the No. 5 Rams (26-9).
In the end, woeful outside shooting killed the Flyers. They survived 2-of-13 shooting from long range in a 56-52 victory over Rhode Island in the semifinals, but couldn’t overcome 2-of-10 shooting Sunday. VCU made 10 of 27.
“I thought we played extremely hard,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “I thought we battled for three days. You know, I’m not sure what it’s a tribute to, but we are a pretty good shooting team. And I thought we had some open shots that if they just go in a little bit, the game could have been different, but it wasn’t the case.”
Dayton trailed 33-26 at halftime and fell behind 39-28 early in the second half. Slowly, Dayton climbed back into the game. It tied the game four times in the last 12 minutes but never took the lead. VCU answered each tying basket by Dayton in the final three minutes with a score on the next possession.
The final turning point came with 56 seconds left when Dayton sophomore guard Scoochie Smith, who played so well and led the Flyers with 16 points, turned the ball over with the Flyers down two. The Rams converted it into a fast-break layup and led 63-59.
“I was just trying to run the play,” Smith said. “I just tried to run it too quick. It is what it is. … We played hard, but to give up two championships, we’ve just got to grow as a team. I think it’s on me. I’ve got to be a better point guard.”
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