RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Commonwealth student section started the second half Tuesday with dozens of long, thin yellow balloons in their hands. They were the type of balloons parents turn into various animals at birthday parties.
It’s unlikely any of the fans attempted to make a Ram out of the balloons. That would have been as difficult for the students as making a free throw was for the VCU players on the court.
The Dayton Flyers beat VCU 62-58 in part because the Rams, who have shot 70.3% at the line this season, shot 50% in this game. They made 10 of 20 free throws and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 three times in a four-minute stretch in the first half. That was one reason Dayton avenged a 63-62 loss to VCU on Jan. 13 at UD Arena and built on recent success at the Siegel Center, including an 82-52 victory on VCU’s home court a year ago.
“We took a lot of tough 2s,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said, “and we did get downhill. We drew a lot of fouls. But we didn’t make free throws. We’ve got to make free throws. We work on them every day, and it hurt us twice at home this year. It had a lot to do with the the outcome of the game. We’ve got to step up and make them with confidence.”
There were other reasons Dayton (16-9, 8-4) won and kept its Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship hopes alive. Here are six more:
1. Toumani Camara dominated VCU for the second time: Camara followed up his 27-point performance against VCU in the first game with 26 points in this game. He made 9 of 12 shots from the field, including 2 of 3 3-pointers. He made 6 of 11 free throws.
Camara had nine turnovers in the first game against VCU but only two in this one. He also led all players with 15 rebounds.
Camara scored seven straight points to start a 9-0 Dayton run in the second half. The Flyers turned a 47-46 deficit into a 55-47 lead at the 6:25 mark. They didn’t trail again.
“I thought he just made plays,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “His rebounding was very noticeable. He was dominant in that area. He was able to take advantage of some matchups. Guys did a great job of understanding where we had advantages and putting us in position to use that advantage.”
2. Koby Brea handled the point guard duties well: With Malachi Smith sidelined by the left ankle he injured Saturday in a 68-59 loss at St. Bonaventure, Mike Sharavjamts returned to the starting lineup, but he was limited to 10 minutes because of foul trouble. He fouled out with 10:32 remaining.
Brea took over at point guard at times earlier this season when Smith and Kobe Elvis were out with injuries. He returned to that role and had four assists and three turnovers in 31 minutes. He also scored the first six straight points in 10-0 run in the first half as Dayton climbed out of an early 17-6 hole. He finished with nine points on 2-of-8 shooting and made 3 of 3 free throws.
“It was a little more tiring this time because of the (VCU) pressure,” Brea said, “but it was cool just controlling the pace of the game. My teammates did a good job of helping me playing that position because they know I’m not so familiar with it, but I feel like it worked out pretty well.”
3. Dayton had just enough stamina to withstand another late VCU rally: With Smith out, Sharavjamts in foul trouble and R.J. Blakney limited to six minutes by a leg injury he suffered early in the first half, Grant stuck with five players for most of the second half: Camara; Brea; Elvis; DaRon Holmes II; and Mustapha Amzil. Grant did not make a substitution in the final 10 minutes until Zimi Nwokeji replaced Holmes, who fouled out with 35 seconds remaining.
Dayton’s fatigue showed in four turnovers in the last 90 seconds. This time, unlike in the previous game when two Dayton turnovers resulted in five quick points by VCU in the final 30 seconds, VCU managed one basket off those turnovers.
Down three with a chance to tie the game, VCU star Adrian Baldwin opted for a jump shot with 11 seconds remaining. He missed. Camara got the rebound and sealed the victory by making 1 of 2 free throws with eight seconds to play.
“Nothing about playing VCU is ever going to be easy,” Brea said. “We just stuck together.”
4. Dayton made life difficult for Baldwin: After scoring 37 on 12-of-15 shooting Friday in a 73-65 victory at Saint Louis, Baldwin scored 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting. He missed all seven of his 3-point attempts. VCU missed all nine of its 3-point attempts in the second half after making 4 of 10 in the first half.
5. David Shriver did not catch fire again for VCU: The reserve forward made 6 of 8 3-pointers in the second half in the first game against Dayton. He did not attempt a shot in this game.
“We did a great job of defending and making guys take shots that we wanted to take shots,” Elvis said.
6. Dayton showed the fire and grit Grant said was missing in the previous game: Dayton entered this game with losses in its last three road games at George Washington, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure. In each of those games, it trailed at halftime and didn’t mount serious comebacks late in the game.
This time, it overcame an early 11-point deficit and answered VCU’s second-half comeback.
“I thought we competed at the level that we need to compete,” Grant said. “Win or lose, I thought the guys competed and stayed together and we fought through. That’s what we got to be able to do.”
The victory leaves Dayton a game behind VCU (18-7, 9-3) and a half game behind Saint Louis (16-8, 8-3), which beat Rhode Island 76-71 on Tuesday in St. Louis. Six games remain in the regular season. Dayton and Saint Louis play at 8 p.m. Friday at UD Arena.
Dayton and VCU split the two-game regular-season series for the third time in the last six seasons.
“It’s huge for our team,” Holmes said. “We’ve been really wanting that one bad, especially after they got us at home. We were very hungry for that.”
Saint Louis at Dayton, 8 p.m., ESPN2, 1290, 95.7
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