Dayton basketball: Game-by-game look at 2023-24 season

Looking back at Dayton Daily News coverage of every game

The long road to March began in early November for the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team.

A 31-game regular-season schedule was trimmed to 30 by the cancellation of a home game against UNLV in December. Dayton suffered an early setback with a loss at Northwestern but built momentum with a comeback victory against LSU in the Charleston Classic and then an impressive performance a day later against St. John’s.

The Flyers kept pace with the 29-2 team of 2020 through 12 non-conference games, winning 13 straight games at one point, but couldn’t survive the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule unscathed as that team did. Nonetheless, they lived up to the hype with one of the best players in the country, DaRon Holmes II, leading the way, earning the program’s first NCAA tournament berth in seen years.

Here’s a look back at every game Dayton played with excerpts from the Dayton Daily News game stories:

1. Nov. 6: Dayton 63, SIUE 47

As they walk down the ramp to Tom Blackburn Court at UD Arena, the Dayton Flyers pass John DiMatteo, who since at least 2016 has worked as a security guard in the same spot, where the ramp intersects with the hallway that leads to the media room.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. SIUE

DiMatteo raises both arms in the air and cheers the players. They greet him with high fives.

DiMatteo is still learning the names and faces this season because the team has seven new scholarship players and four new walk-ons. The same goes for most of the 13,407 fans who packed UD Arena for two exhibition games and the season opener Monday.

The Flyers themselves are learning about each other as well. They know their teammates’ names and faces by now but playing together in a pressure environment with a fanbase hungry for winning dissecting every shot and turnover, that will take time to get used to.

Dayton’s 63-47 victory against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the first game of the 2023-24 season looked like so many openers over the years — a mix of good and bad and everything in between but with the same result as the 18 previous openers.

“We had jitterbugs in the first half a little bit,” Dayton junior forward DaRon Holmes II said, “but we stayed resilient. This team was positive. Our chemistry was great. We just stayed the course. We ended up winning the game. This team is going to be very special if we can continue to do that.”

2. Nov. 10: Northwestern 71, Dayton 66

EVANSTON, Ill. — Welsh-Ryan Arena opened in 1952 but looks sparkling new thanks to a $110 million renovation during the 2017-18 season. It looks nothing like the place the Dayton Flyers visited in 1998.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Northwestern

The one thing that may be the same is the color scheme. A sea of purple seats greeted Dayton on Friday in the second game of the season. It was easy to spot the hundreds of red-clad Dayton fans in the stands — at least when they weren’t in the slow line for beer.

Those fans drowned out the Northwestern fans at time but not in the final minutes as the Wildcats (2-0) sealed a 71-66 victory against the Flyers (1-1).

“That was a very winnable game for us,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said.

For Grant, the game came down to Northwestern’s 11-0 run at the end of the first half. Dayton took a 25-24 lead late in the half only to face a 35-25 halftime deficit.

Another deciding factor for Grant was Northwestern’s success on the offensive boards in the second half. The Flyers quickly erased an 11-point deficit and had the lead at several points but were outscored 16-4 in second-chance points. Northwestern had 12 offensive rebounds to Dayton’s three.

The final deciding stat for Grant were Dayton’s turnovers. The Flyers had 15. Northwestern had seven.

“We shot the ball well,” Grant said. “We scored at a pretty high rate. We turned the ball over too much. Those are all things that we can control for the most part, and I think we will get better. We’re two games in, and I think we’re still learning about ourselves. Hopefully, this game will be a game that we’ll look back on and say, ‘It made us better.’ But we don’t have a whole lot of these opportunities to get these these types of wins. So we have to make the most out of it. We understand at Dayton we have to be at our best in early November.”

3. Nov. 16: Dayton 70, LSU 67

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nate Santos caught the pass from Javon Bennett just outside the 3-point line. LSU didn’t have a defender near him — not close enough, at least.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. LSU

From the Dayton Flyers bench, someone shouted, “Oh my God, Nate!”

The high-arcing shot swished through the net at TD Arena with 4.1 seconds to play Thursday. Bennett jumped with both arms in the air. Hundreds of UD fans had the same reaction in the stands. LSU called timeout, giving DaRon Holmes II the chance to grab Santos in a bear hug at center court.

Minutes later, after LSU missed a desperation 3-pointer, Dayton celebrated a 70-67 victory in the first round of the Charleston Classic.

“It’s big,” said Santos, who led Dayton with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting. “It’s definitely some momentum for us. It’s something we wanted, and I’m glad we got it.”

4. Nov. 17: Dayton 88, St. John’s 81

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dayton Flyers guard Koby Brea got into a mix-up with St. John’s guard Glenn Taylor Jr. and then center Joel Soriano late in the second half, earning two technical fouls and an ejection. Brea left the court with strength coach Casey Cathrall with a smile and made the shape of a heart with his hands as the Flyer Faithful cheered from the stands at TD Arena.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. St. John’s

Minutes earlier, Brea’s put-back dunk had energized the crowd in a different way. Playing on two legs that had rods inserted into them in April, Brea looked as strong as ever in Dayton’s 88-81 victory against St. John’s in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic. He scored 10 points and had six rebounds.

“When you reflect on everything that he’s been through in the last year, he’s playing with great confidence,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “He just has a great feel about him. He understands who he is as a player. He’s really talented. It was great to see that put-back dunk, but his poise out there, it’s really impressive to see.”

Dayton (3-1) built on its 70-67 victory against LSU and will now play No. 6 Houston (5-0) at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the championship game. Houston beat Utah 76-66 in the semifinals.

“I really like where we’re headed as a team,” Grant said. “I really like the group, I think they’re complementing each other really well and figuring it out. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

5. Nov. 19: Houston 69, Dayton 55

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Flyer Faithful spent their free Saturday walking the battery on the south side of the city, visiting Folly Beach and, of course, sipping a few beverages at the many bars and restaurants around Charleston. On Sunday, they flooded TD Arena for the third time in four days Sunday, hoping for one more great day at the Charleston Classic.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Houston

No. 6 Houston didn’t let the UD fans or the team dream for long, seizing control with an early 10-0 run and never letting the Flyers back into the game en route to a 69-55 victory.

Dayton still left with its best finish in the tournament after placing fifth in 2012 and sixth in 2017. The Flyers needed at least two victories to start to build a NCAA tournament resume and got those on the first two days of the tournament against LSU and St. John’s. A loss to Houston, the No. 1 team in the Ken Pomeroy ratings, won’t do much damage to UD’s at-large hopes.

The last five times Dayton has earned a NCAA tournament bid, if you count 2020 when the tournament was cancelled, it has won two of three games in its November tournament.

“These games are really important,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “You have an opportunity to put yourself in a position where you’re in a conversation for what happens in March. That’s the goal. We always talk about the beginning with the end in mind.”

6. Nov. 24: Dayton 77, Youngstown State 69

DaRon Holmes II gave a quick bow after scoring the final point of the game at the free-throw line Friday at UD Arena. On a night when he made 6 of 14 free throws, he didn’t bow to celebrate his accuracy but to acknowledge a small success on a night of struggles.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Youngstown State

Holmes has made major strides at the free-throw line. Entering the game against Youngstown State, he had made 32 of 39 (82.1%). His percentage dropped to 71.7% because of one bad night. That was only one reason the Dayton Flyers struggled to beat Youngstown State 77-69.

Dayton (4-2) trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half and never led by more than nine in the second half but still won its 13th straight non-conference home game. The last losses that fit in that category — against UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay — came in back-to-back-to-back games in November 2021.

“Let’s keep it like that,” said Dayton guard Koby Brea in the postgame press conference after being reminded of those losses.

The Flyers did not play well against a team ranked No. 202 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings but took a 37-35 halftime lead with a 9-0 run to end the first half. They then kept the lead throughout the second half.

“I think the way I would sum up today is we did enough to be able to come up with a win,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We knew Youngstown State would come out and be ready to go today. We knew how big of a game that was for them.”

7. Nov. 29: Dayton 65, SMU 63

DALLAS, Texas — Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant was amazed to hear former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush sat courtside Wednesday at Moody Coliseum during his team’s game against Southern Methodist. The coach was too focused on the game to notice the stands, and the Bushes were introduced to the crowd during a timeout when Grant was busy.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. SMU

The players noticed Bush, however, especially DaRon Holmes II.

“We pointed at each other a couple of times,” Holmes said. “We winked at each other. It was very cool.”

Bush’s Presidential Library is right across the street from the arena, and Laura Bush is a SMU graduate. The famous fans nearly got run over by Dayton guard Javon Bennett in the second half as he chased down a loose ball. The Secret Service did not have to step in.

Bush has been out of office for almost 15 years, and until Wednesday, it had been nearly half as long since Dayton had won a non-conference regular-season road game. A 65-63 victory against SMU ended an eight-game losing streak in those games. It’s the first victory of that type in Grant’s seven seasons, or second if you count a 2022 victory at Toledo in the first round of the NIT.

“Everybody’s saying coach Grant can’t get any non-conference road wins,” Holmes said, “and there you go, we just got one.”

8. Dec. 2: Dayton 76, Grambling State 46

Walk-on C.J. Napier, who has more points in college basketball than anyone on the Dayton Flyers roster, scored the last basket of a 76-46 victory against Grambling State on Saturday at UD Arena. He threw in a short hook shot in the final minute for his first basket as a Flyer.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Grambling State

A Bishop Fenwick graduate from Miamisburg, Napier played four seasons at Ohio Northern University, a Division III program. He ranks 19th in ONU history with 1,279 points and now has two points at Dayton. That gives him 84 more points than Dayton junior forward DaRon Holmes II, the second most prolific scorer on the roster (1,197 points), has in three seasons.

It says something about the 2023-24 roster that Dayton can record its most lopsided victory of the season with Holmes scoring only five points. He took only six shots. Dayton didn’t need a big game from its star with Nate Santos scoring a career-high 26 points and Koby Brea staying hot for the second straight game with 15 points.

“We’re doing really good playing off each other,” Brea said, “and any game could be anybody’s night.”

9. Dec. 9: Dayton 82, Troy 70

By Jeff Gilbert

Troy made its first four 3-point shots Saturday at UD Arena. Javon Bennett made sure the Trojans’ final attempt of the first half wouldn’t swish through the net on the kind of winning play Dayton head coach Anthony Grant loves.

After Bennett made a 3-pointer with nine seconds left in the half, he hustled down court to block Marcus Rigsby Jr.’s 3-point attempt from the right corner. The ball sailed out of bounds as the clock expired on a 14-point halftime lead that became an 82-70 Dayton victory. The Flyers have won four straight.

Bennett, who scored 11 points, stands 5 feet, 10 inches.

“That was huge,” Grant said. “The way they were shooting I think that one probably would’ve went win. That was a big-time effort play.”

The Trojans (4-5) entered the game shooting 34.5% from 3-point range and cooled off considerably from their start to shoot 39.3% (11 of 28).

10. Dec. 16: Dayton 82, Cincinnati 68

CINCINNATI — Chants of “This is our house!” echoed around the Heritage Bank Center in the final minutes of the Hoops Classic on Saturday.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Cincinnati

For most of the evening, it was hard to tell exactly how much of an edge in fan support the Dayton Flyers had over the Cincinnati Bearcats four miles from the UC campus. Then a dominant second half by UD caused Bearcat fans to flee for the exits before the final whistle, leaving many empty seats on the UC side of an arena that was known as Riverfront Coliseum in the days when the teams played every season.

A crowd of 12,547 — maybe 60% of them members of the Flyer Faithful — watched Dayton beat Cincinnati 82-68 in the first matchup between the former Great Midwest Conference members since 2010.

“I’m just really proud of our guys and the effort that they gave us this week in preparation for the game,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “I thought we did all the things that we talked about needing to do. They showed great maturity and a great level of toughness and togetherness to be able to come out with the win. It was great to see the crowd that showed up today. Obviously, the Flyer Faithful were awesome. We’re proud of that. It was just overall a great team effort. I’m really proud of our group.”

11. Dec. 20: Dayton 91, Oakland 67

The Dayton Flyers surprised everyone by setting a school record with 17 made 3-pointers on 32 attempts in a 106-79 victory against Virginia Commonwealth on Jan. 12, 2018. That Dayton team finished 14-17 and shot 33.7% from 3-point range. For one game, it played out of its mind.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Oakland

Nearly six years later, no one will be surprised to learn Dayton broke that 3-point record by making 18 of 34 in a 91-67 victory against Oakland on Wednesday at UD Arena. The Flyers have shot 50% or better in four of their last five games and climbed to No. 2 in the country in accuracy from long range (41.8%) with another can’t-miss performance. They trail only Baylor (44.6).

Dayton (9-2) won its sixth straight game and extended its winning streak in non-conference home games to 16 in its last game before Christmas break.

“I’m just really proud of our group,” coach. Anthony Grant said. “I think we showed great maturity tonight. This was a tough prep in terms of (Oakland being) very different than any team we’ve played this year with the way that they defend. Their zone is unique, and our guys did a great job of understanding where we can take advantage of some of the opportunities that it presented.”

12. Dec. 30: Dayton 78, Longwood 69

Kids behind the visitor’s bench on Saturday afternoon at UD Arena held up hand-drawn signs supporting their team and wore T-shirts reading, “Let’s Go Wood.”

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Longwood

Wood is short for Longwood, and Longwood was a longshot playing on the road against one of the hottest teams in the country, the Dayton Flyers.

Dayton had not trailed at halftime in its four previous December games against Grambling State, Troy, Cincinnati and Oakland and won those games by an average of 20 points but faced a 37-34 halftime deficit Saturday. It was only that close because Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half. That shot gave the Flyers a bit of momentum, and they build on it in the second half en route to a 78-69 victory.

“That was a big one,” Holmes said.

Dayton (10-2) won its seventh straight game, its 17th straight non-conference home game and stayed perfect at home this season with its seventh victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,407.

13. Jan. 3: Dayton 72, Davidson 59

DAVIDSON, N.C. — A Dayton Flyers fan named John McNamara, wearing a basketball mask, sat behind the UD bench Wednesday at Belk Arena He was the Horseman from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with a basketball as a head instead a pumpkin.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Davidson

McNamara looked spiritful and frightening at the same time. At one point during Dayton’s 72-59 victory against Davidson, he tried to get a high five from a player but was left hanging. He wore the same mask to the games in the Charleston Classic. He said he has more just like it at home in Cleveland.

McNamara’s favorite team, the Flyers, did not need to disguise themselves on opening night of Atlantic 10 Conference play. They revealed they are the same team they’ve been all year, whether they’re playing at UD Arena or in front of a semi-hostile crowd drawn to Belk Arena in part because of a free-beer promotion.

While four of the teams picked to finish in the top six in the A-10 preseason poll opened the 18-game schedule with a loss, Dayton led from start to finish. It stretched its winning streak to eight games, its longest since a 20-game streak to end the 2019-20 season.

“Road wins are hard to come by,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “This is the first of 18. Now we’ll get ready for the next one.”

14. Jan. 7: Dayton 64, Massachusetts 60

Dayton Flyers forward DaRon Holmes II smiled and stuck out his tongue as he dribbled out the clock in a 64-60 victory against Massachusetts on Sunday at UD Arena.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. UMass

Everyone in the crowd of 13,407, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief. Dayton had sweated much in the final minutes of games since a 65-63 victory at Southern Methodist on Nov. 29. This game proved the 18-game Atlantic 10 Conference schedule will include as many nervous moments as joyful moments, and even the A-10 favorite, one of the hottest teams in the country, ranked No. 19 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool entering the game, will struggle at times.

“That’s definitely one of the better teams in the A-10,” Holmes said. “They did a good job on the defensive end, especially in the second half. We struggled a little bit figuring it out, but we got the win, and that’s what matters most. We’ve just got to look back and reflect on what we can fix and go from there.”

Dayton (12-2, 2-0) won its ninth straight game, its longest streak in four years, and eighth straight in the series against UMass (10-4, 1-1). The Flyers didn’t trail for the second straight game. However, unlike Wednesday when Dayton won 72-57 at Davidson, the Flyers were unable to protect a double-digit lead in the second half.

15. Jan. 12: Dayton 72, Duquesne 62

PITTSBURGH — DaRon Holmes II put his arm around Anthony Grant’s shoulders as they walked off the court Friday after a 72-62 victory at Duquesne’s UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Duquesne

The junior forward, who took over the game in the second half, scoring a season-high 33 points, and the seventh-year coach walked past a section full of Dayton Flyers fans, and it wasn’t the only section cheering “Let’s go Flyers” and “This is our house.” The Flyer Faithful helped Duquesne sell out a game for the first time since it renovated the arena formerly known as the Palumbo Center three years ago. The crowd of 3,724 broke the previous record of 3,333 set last February.

The fans in the Duquesne showed enthusiasm from the start, chanting derogatory things about Ohio before tipoff. One fan held up a sign reading, “What is a Flyer?” By the end, everyone knew as the Flyers (13-2, 3-0) added another impressive victory to a resume that ranks among the best in the nation at the halfway point of the regular season.

“It was awesome,” guard Koby Brea said. “We dream about playing in atmospheres like this. To go into a road game and have such a good crowd out there and have our own people there supporting us as well, it’s always a great feeling.”

“It means everything,” Holmes said. “Road wins are not easy. It just takes a level of mental toughness and togetherness.”

16. Jan. 16: Dayton 70, Saint Louis 65

One Saint Louis University fan wrote SLU on the belly of another fan behind the Billikens bench before the game Tuesday at UD Arena.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Saint Louis

Judging by the vibe on social media, many Saint Louis fans — but not these two, who also painted their faces and wore shiny clothes — don’t have much stomach left for this season, but their team put a scare into the Dayton Flyers in UD’s first game as a ranked team this season.

No. 21 Dayton trailed 30-28 at halftime but pulled in front early in the second half and then rode their star DaRon Holmes II, who scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half, to a 70-65 victory.

“It was pretty difficult,” Holmes said. “We have to come in with the same mentality every game and play our version of basketball. In the first half, we kind of slipped, but we had a good locker-room talk, figured it out in the second half, went back out there and played our butts off.”

17. Jan. 20: Dayton 96, Rhode Island 62

Saint Louis coach Travis Ford earned the wrong kind of publicity Tuesday at UD Arena when he came close to disrupting a 3-point attempt by Dayton Flyers guard Javon Bennett. Ford wandered onto the court and appeared to swipe at the ball from a few feet away.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Rhode Island

Bennett made the shot anyway. The officials said nothing.

Archie Miller went a couple steps farther, literally, on Saturday and nearly collided with Dayton guard Koby Brea as Dayton pushed the pace in the first half. Miller, at least, tried to get out of the way. Brea passed to DaRon Holmes II under the basket for a score.

This time the officials issued a coach’s box warning to Miller.

Despite the “defensive” efforts of those opposing coaches, the Dayton Flyers continue to soar. They climbed to No. 21 in the Associated Press top-25 poll on Monday, beat Saint Louis 70-65 on Tuesday and then routed Rhode Island 96-62 on Saturday to hand Miller one of the worst losses of his career on a court where he won so many games from 2011-17.

Dayton (15-2, 5-0) delivered its most dominant performance yet in Atlantic 10 Conference play.

“There’s always going to be ugly wins, and there’s always going to be great wins,” Holmes said. “It’s about staying the course and trusting your habits, the things that you do every day.”

18. Jan. 23: Dayton 66, La Salle 54

PHILADELPHIA — Former University of Dayton President Dr. Daniel Curran sat behind the Dayton Flyers bench on Tuesday at Tom Gola Arena. A big group of Koby Brea fans, who made the trip from the Bronx, N.Y., surrounded him.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. La Salle

Ten years ago, Curran made headlines by crowd surfing with UD students on campus when the Flyers beat Syracuse in Buffalo to reach the Sweet 16. There was no big celebration this time — mostly relief for Curran and the Flyer Faithful after a 66-54 victory against La Salle in an arena and a city where the Flyers have struggled over the years.

“I worry every time they come to Philadelphia,” said Curran, who now lives in Philadelphia.

Like the 2020 Flyers, who won 84-58 at La Salle on their way to a 29-2 season and an Atlantic 10 Conference championship, the 2024 Flyers survived the Gola gauntlet, overcoming a cold shooting night to win their 13th straight game.

No. 16 Dayton (16-2, 6-0) lost 62-60 at La Salle two years ago. That was just the most recent sad chapter in its history at La Salle. It is now 4-7 in its last 11 games at the arena.

“Coach was telling us they didn’t have the outcome they wanted last time they came here,” guard Javon Bennett said, “so it was kind of redemption coming back.”

19. Jan. 27: Richmond 69, Dayton 64

RICHMOND, VA. — Richmond students were well prepared to storm the court Saturday at the Robins Center. Security guards started clearing photographers away from the baseline — so they wouldn’t get trampled — in front of the student section in the final minute as the Spiders put the finishing touches on a 69-64 victory against the No. 16 Dayton Flyers.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. VCU

As Dayton guard Javon Bennett’s final shot missed, Richmond players started waving the students onto the court, and they didn’t take long to get there. Meanwhile security guards in yellow jackets kept the throng of people away from the Dayton players and coaches as they went through the handshake line.

Richmond’s first regular-season victory against Dayton in 10 years was also Dayton’s first loss in more than two months. The Flyers (16-3, 6-1) fell two victories short of becoming the first team in school history to win every game in December and January, while the Spiders (15-5, 7-0) took over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“Credit to Richmond,” Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II said. “We’ve just got to hit shots. I don’t think anything changes moving forward. We’re a great team. We still have a lot of confidence. We love each other. We love our fans. We love everybody who supports us.”

20. Jan. 30: Dayton 83, George Washington 61

Koby Brea turned his back to the basket and started celebrating his fifth made 3-pointer Tuesday before the ball swished through the net on Tom Blackburn Court.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. GW

“Swagger,” teammate DaRon Holmes II said simply after the game.

Obi Toppin made a similar move four years ago against Kansas in the Maui Invitational. Brea has reached the same level with his confidence. He expects it to go in every time. Everyone watching expects the same. When his teammates call him the best shooter in the nation, it’s not hyperbole. He leads the country in 3-point accuracy (58 of 119, 48.7%).

“He’s impressive,” George Washington coach Chris Caputo said. “His shot is very, very clean. It looks the same every single time. He shoots it from deep. He’s shooting it off the dribble some now. The guy is as good of a shooter as there is.”

Brea made 5 of 9 3-pointers as No. 21 Dayton (17-3, 7-1) beat George Washington 83-61 at UD Arena, bouncing back from a 69-64 loss at Richmond on Saturday. Here are three takeaways from Dayton’s 20th game, 10th straight victory at home this season and 10th straight home victory against GW in the series.

21. Feb. 2: Dayton 76, St. Bonaventure 71

Fans in the 100 level at UD Arena received $10 coupons to Mike’s Carwash on Friday night. They were in every cupholder before the game. Fans could also pick them up on tables in the concourses.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. St. Bonaventure

Who doesn’t need a car wash at this time of year? The grime builds up all winter. It’s hard to keep cars clean on so many ugly days.

It’s also hard to avoid blemishes from January through March in the Atlantic 10 Conference, where so many Dayton Flyers teams over the years have seen strong non-conference performances stained by A-10 teams that know them well.

• In 2014, Dayton started 12-3 and then lost five of its first six A-10 games.

• The following year, Dayton won its first five A-10 games only to go 8-5 down the stretch.

• In 2016, Dayton won 11 of its first 12 A-10 games and then three of its last six.

• The 2017 Flyers lost only three A-10 games but one was to Massachusetts, which finished a game out of last place.

Those were the last four Dayton teams to play in the NCAA tournament. The one Dayton team that survived the 18-game A-10 schedule without a loss didn’t get that chance because of the pandemic in 2020. The 2024 Flyers keep moving closer to easing some of the pain that will always surround the program because of the abrupt ending in 2020 because they have, with one exception, avoided the A-10 pitfalls.

No. 21 Dayton (18-3, 8-1) beat St. Bonaventure 76-71 on Friday to complete a 2-0 week at home after a 69-64 loss at Richmond last week.

“The game was like a heavyweight fight,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “It was great for college basketball. It was great for A-10 basketball. You had two really hard-playing, competitive teams on display tonight. I’m just really proud of our guys. We grew up today as a team.”

22. Feb. 6: Dayton 94, Saint Joseph’s 79

PHILADELPHIA — Large framed photos of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West fill a wall on the upper level of Hagan Arena. Twenty years ago, they led Saint Joseph’s to a 27-0 regular season that included an 81-67 victory against the Dayton Flyers at Hagan on Feb. 11, 2004.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Saint Joseph’s

The week of that game, Nelson appeared the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Hawks were the biggest story in college basketball. They were 20-0 entering that game and ranked third in the country.

Dayton had a strong team, too, one that would make the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. It took a 19-3 overall record and a 9-0 Atlantic 10 Conference mark into the game. Yet the Flyers were no match for one of the great teams in A-10 history, playing in front of a capacity crowd of 3,200.

“This is a little gym,” Dayton forward Keith Waleskowski said after the game, “but this atmosphere is what college basketball is all about.”

Waleskowski would have said the same Tuesday.

A crowd of 2,923, including a rowdy student section that taunted the Flyers all night — telling Dayton point guard Javon Bennett to “go back to daycare,” for example — watched No. 18 Dayton (19-3, 9-1) take another step toward joining the list of great A-10 teams with a 94-79 victory against Saint Joseph’s. The Flyers climbed one spot to No. 16 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool with their third straight victory and moved into first place in the A-10 by a half game over Richmond (16-6, 8-1), which doesn’t play again until Saturday.

“It’s awesome,” Dayton guard Kobe Elvis said. “It was phenomenal being in an atmosphere like this. Saint Joe’s did a great job getting people to show up. They played an awesome game. So did our guys.”

23. Feb. 9: VCU 49, Dayton 47

RICHMOND, Va. — At one point during a timeout in the second half Friday at the Siegel Center, stuffed animals — puppies, to be exact — fell from the ceiling, attached to small, white parachutes. Virginia Commonwealth could have shot T-shirts into the crowd. Instead, it dropped dogs from the rafters. Fans clambered to catch them.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. VCU

The Dayton Flyers and VCU Rams probably didn’t notice what was taking place behind them in the stands. They were dealing with enough weirdness on the court.

VCU didn’t score in the last 5 minutes, 58 seconds and put up its lowest score of the season and still beat No. 18 Dayton 49-47 in the first of two Atlantic 10 Conference showdowns between the two schools. Neither team scored in the last three minutes.

Dayton still had a chance to send the game to overtime or win it at the buzzer. It put the ball in the hands of its star, forward DaRon Holmes II, after a timeout with 10 seconds to play. Holmes missed a one-handed bank shot from the right side in the final seconds.

“It’s tough,” Dayton forward Nate Santos said. “I think frustrating is a perfect way to describe it. We were right there. I don’t think we played our best.”

24. Feb. 13: Dayton 75, Duquesne 59

Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant showed a different side of himself Tuesday in a postgame press conference after a 75-59 victory against Duquesne at UD Arena: his funny side.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Duquesne

Grant was asked what he told the players during a timeout midway though the first half after Duquesne stretched its lead to 22-11.

“Bleep, bleepity, bleep, bleep, bleep,” Grant said with a smile.

The room exploded with laughter. Grant followed his joke by saying, “I don’t remember what I said, but we needed to play with more energy.”

Whatever he said worked because Dayton outscored Duquesne 13-2 in the next five minutes. That run paled in comparison to the game-deciding 22-2 run in the last 6 minutes, 17 seconds of the game. The Flyers turned a 57-53 deficit into a 75-57 lead before Duquesne finally scored on its last possession with nine seconds remaining.

The No. 16 Flyers (20-4, 10-2) may have lacked the energy at the start but had plenty at the end as they bounced back from a 49-47 loss at Virginia Commonwealth on Friday, improved to 12-0 at home and reached the 20-win mark for the fifth time in Grant’s seven seasons.

“I’ve got to take my hat off to Duquesne,” Grant said. “I thought they set the tone to start the game. I wasn’t pleased with the way that we started from an energy standpoint, from an effort standpoint. I thought in the first eight to 10 minutes, they kind of took the fight to us. After that, our guys responded to close to half pretty well. Obviously, it was back and forth for most of the (second) half. We could never really get separation. The last eight minutes or so of the game, it came down to really our guys’ grit and toughness and determination. They showed great poise. I think it’s a product of not only who they are as competitors, but kind of what they’ve been through over the course of the season.”

25. Feb. 17: Dayton 78, Fordham 70

DaRon Holmes II blocked a shot into the stands near the Flyer Pep Band in the final minute and waved goodbye to the ball.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Fordham

Holmes danced a little jig of sorts as he took the ball up the court to shoot free throws in the final seconds. He then bowed to the crowd at center court as the final buzzer sounded in a 78-70 victory against Fordham on Saturday afternoon at UD Arena.

Moments later, Holmes ran past the Red Scare student section, as the Dayton Flyers do after every home victory, and stopped to pose for a photo with the Pilot, the Flight Attendants and the Blue Men who make up the front row.

“They’re here for us every home game,” Holmes said. “They’re loud, and they really help us. So I always try to give back.”

No one’s having a better time this season than Holmes, an All-American candidate who’s the star of the nation’s 16th-ranked team, even if the tension level in recent games has matched the fun level.

“That’s great to see,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “That’s what it should be.”

26. Feb. 21: George Mason 71, Dayton 67

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.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. George Mason

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.”

27. Feb. 27: Dayton 80, Davidson 66

Kinsley Shafer set the tone before the game Tuesday with one of the most spirited renditions of the national anthem seen at UD Arena this season.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Davidson

The No. 21 Dayton Flyers needed about five minutes to find the same energy after a six-day break and then brought plenty of it and rode a 40-21 halftime lead to an 80-66 victory against Davidson.

With the victory, Dayton (22-5, 12-3) bounced back from a 71-67 loss at George Mason last week, took another step toward locking up a NCAA tournament at-large bid, completed a season sweep of Davidson (15-13, 5-10), stayed perfect at home with a 14-0 record and secured a top-four seed and double bye in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

“I was proud of our guys for their resiliency early,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “because obviously you want to start the game well, and we didn’t necessarily start our best. But I thought they stayed the course. Defensively, we got great efforts tonight all the way across the board. Offensively, the ball movement in the first half was as good as we’ve had in quite some time. I thought they really shared the ball. When you look at the stat sheet, you see six guys in double figures. I think that’s indicative of what this team is capable of.”

28. March 1: Loyola 77, Dayton 72

CHICAGO — A tense exchange between Loyola Chicago coach Drew Valentine and Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant punctuated a game that lived up to the hype on the first day of March.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Loyola Chicago

March Madness began with more road disappointment for No. 21 Dayton, which lost 77-72 to Loyola at Gentile Arena. As Dayton players left the court, their paths crossed with several Loyola players. Loyola’s Desmond Watson was held back by a teammate as Valentine stepped between Grant and Watson. Dayton associate coach Ricardo Greer pulled Grant back as Watson was escorted to the locker room by a teammate.

The incident ended quickly — but this is a defeat that will linger for Dayton because it likely costs it any chance of winning the A-10 regular-season title in a season in which it was the preseason favorite.

“Guys battled,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “It was a really hotly-contested game. Give them credit. They made some plays. Defensively, we knew they would be disruptive. They’ve got really good players. They’re a very well-coached team. It was a great environment today. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come out with the win.”

29. March 4: Dayton 100, Saint Louis 83

SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — Javon Bennett did not look like a happy Flyer as he watched his teammates warm up Tuesday. He sat on the bench in street clothes with his injured thumb tucked away in his sweatshirt. Anyone getting to the game early at Chaifetz Arena would have known right away the Dayton Flyers starting point guard wasn’t going to play.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Saint Louis

Bennett wore a different look throughout the second half as No. 25 Dayton put the finishing touches on a 100-83 victory against Saint Louis. Like everyone on the Dayton bench, he had a great time witnessing the type of performance Dayton needed against a team near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 Conference standings.

“Guys had to step up,” Bennett said, “and they all stepped up.”

Bennett hurt his left thumb in the first half Friday in a 77-72 loss at Loyola Chicago. His thumb bent after he caught it in his jersey as he saved a ball from going out of bounds. He doesn’t know if he’ll play again this season. He hopes to know by the end of the week, he said, but first has to see more doctors.

“It’s day by day,” Bennett said.

Dayton knew Sunday it would be without Bennett and Enoch Cheeks and Kobe Elvis would share point guard duties, and they answered the call with former walk-on Brady Uhl also stepping up to play a season-high 13 minutes.

Dayton (23-6, 13-4) ended a three-game road losing streak and a two-game losing streak at Chaifetz Arena, where it had not won since 2021. The Flyers also spoiled Senior Night for the Billikens (11-19, 4-13).

30. March 8: Dayton 91, VCU 86 (OT)

Close to 30 University of Dayton staff members and students spent six hours putting 13,407 T-shirts on the seats at UD Arena before the final home game of the regular season. Alta Fiber sponsored the giveaway, which turned the Decibel Dungeon into the Red Sea.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. VCU

The No. 25 Dayton Flyers got the memo and wore red jerseys, instead of their typical home whites, for the game against Virginia Commonwealth. Everyone matched. The Senior Day ceremony had emotional moments as always with Zimi Nwokeji, the last member of the 2019-20 roster, walking onto the court with his family, along with Kobe Elvis and C.J. Napier.

Dayton had everything going for it — and then the game started.

VCU couldn’t miss a shot. Dayton often couldn’t even get a shot, committing six turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Dayton coach Anthony Grant, not known for calling many timeouts, called one with 10 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the first half after an 8-0 run by the Rams stretched their lead to 26-9. VCU has dominated the series against Dayton for years and appeared on its way to a fourth straight victory against the Flyers at UD Arena.

Dayton had other thoughts.

“I looked at the team, and I was like, ‘We’re good,’” Dayton guard Koby Brea said. “I have a lot of confidence in this team. I feel like no deficit is impossible for us to overcome. When we saw that happen, that’s when we really really got close. In those moments, when we really need each other and things aren’t going well, that’s when we get the tightest. From there, on the rest is history.”

Brea skipped over all the good parts with the last part of his summation — the go-ahead 3-pointer by Nate Santos in the second half, the missed 3 by VCU’s Zeb Jackson in the final seconds of the second half and the game-tying and go-ahead 3-pointers by Kobe Elvis in overtime — but his team did make history with a 91-86 victory.

31. March 14: Duquesne 65, Dayton 57

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — An Atlantic 10 Conference banner hangs high above the court at the Barclays Center. It lists the programs that have won A-10 tournaments at the arena. Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s and Virginia Commonwealth have all hoisted the trophy twice since 2013.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Duquesne

The Dayton Flyers don’t know that feeling. They’ve experienced bad luck at the Barclays — the Langston Galloway push-off on Kyle Davis in 2014, the Obi Toppin injury in 2019 and the Malachi Smith injury in 2022 — but they’ve also underperformed more often than not and their latest appearance in Brooklyn falls into that category.

With a door to the program’s first A-10 tournament championship since 2003 wide open after three of the top-four seeds lost earlier in the day, No. 3 seed Dayton couldn’t take advantage, fading in the final minutes for the second straight year in a 65-57 loss to No. 6 seed Duquesne.

With the defeat, No. 24 Dayton (24-7) prepared for a long wait for Selection Sunday — only three days but much longer for a disappointed team ready to get a fresh life in the NCAA tournament. All the experts expect Dayton to receive an at-large berth. The Flyers dropped from a No. 8 to No. 9 seed on ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s bracket after the loss and fell from No. 21 to No. 22 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool.

“There’s no guarantees for anything,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We hope that we get an opportunity to continue the season. We expect to based on the body of work that we’ve had all year. Played 31 games. We’ve been victorious 24 times. We’ve played a pretty challenging schedule. So we hope to be able to play. Right now, the feeling is disappointment in losing and not having an opportunity for this team to win a championship in our conference, whether it was regular season or postseason.

“So there’s disappointment right now. And so we’ll have to deal with that individually and collectively. And then once the selection show happens and everybody knows what they’re doing — whether you won a championship in the postseason, whether you won a regular-season championship — all that is flushed. Everybody’s got the same record. Everybody’s excited to play. Everybody’s looking forward to getting chance to play in the tournament. And we’ll be one of those teams.”

32. March 21: Dayton 60, Nevada 63

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Dayton Flyers bench exploded in jubilation as Nevada missed its final shot. Players sprinted onto the court to celebrate with their teammates. The coaches started a parade of hugs that would last for several minutes. Javon Bennett and Marvel Allen slapped hands three times in quick succession. DaRon Holmes II grabbed one one of the student managers in a bear hug they’ll both remember forever.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Nevada

After the Flyers walked through the handshake line, the entire coaching staff encircled head coach Anthony Grant. There were tears. There was joy. An victory seven years in the making for Grant — or nine years for the program — brought out all the emotions.

No. 7 seed Dayton erased a 17-point deficit in the final seven minutes to beat No. 10 Nevada 63-60 on Thursday at the Delta Center in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The comeback soothes some of the pain of the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, when one of the great Dayton teams saw its dreams foiled by the pandemic, and eases the disappointment of close calls over the last two seasons as the Flyers fell short of their postseason goals.

For the first time in a long time, the Dayton Flyers captured the nation’s attention in the NCAA tournament in one of the most thrilling games on the first full day of March Madness.

“It means everything,” Holmes said. “We have a lot of people doubting us, so we went out there and did what we had to do. That’s what we’re capable of. We’re just ready for the next game.”

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

33. March 23: Arizona 78, Dayton 68

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Anthony Grant and DaRon Holmes walked together from the Dayton Flyers locker room at the Delta Center to the interview room Saturday. Holmes had his arm around Grant’s shoulders. Grant had his arm on Holmes’ back. Kobe Brea and Kobe Elvis accompanied them on the way to the last press conference of the 2023-24 season.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Arizona

This was a sad last walk for the coach and the players but also a proud ending to the season.

No. 7 seed Dayton looked in danger of being blown out in the second round of the NCAA tournament but showed the same fight and grit it displayed two days earlier in a 17-point comeback against No. 10 Nevada only to falter late in a 78-68 loss to No. 2 Arizona at the Delta Center.

The Flyers finished the season 25-8. The season featured a 13-game winning streak that propelled the program into the top 25 for most of the season, the first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years and the first NCAA tournament victory in nine years.

What will Holmes remember most?

“Everything,” he said. “All the moments, the wins and the losses, getting here to March, something we’ve always dreamed of, especially for the city of Dayton. It’s been a minute, especially getting a win in March. That’s really what we’re gonna remember. Just all the times together.”

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