Optimism abounds in the offseason. Few teams had more reasons to be optimistic last summer than the Dayton Flyers. All the returning scholarship players sat down in UD’s Cronin Center to talk about the 2022-23 season in a series of interviews in June and July with the Dayton Daily News.
“We know that next year has to be the year,” guard Koby Brea said.
“I feel like we could be really good,” guard Malachi Smith said. “I feel like we can really do something special here. That’s the goal.”
“It’s hard to say, ‘OK, we’re going to do this,’” guard R.J. Blakney said, “but I feel like it’s going to be something that we remember for a long time because it’s just a very, very talented group.”
At that time, the Flyer Faithful shared those sentiments. College basketball experts across the country had the same thoughts about a team that fell just short of playing in the 2022 NCAA tournament and returned its entire starting lineup and key reserves.
Eight months after those interviews, though, Dayton’s season is over. It will not play in the NCAA tournament or the NIT for the third time in the last 10 years those tournaments have taken place. A 22-12 season will be remembered for the program failing to achieve any of its biggest goals for the fifth time in six years: building a NCAA tournament resume in non-conference play; winning the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship; winning the A-10 tournament; reaching the NCAA tournament; and advancing in the NCAA tournament.
Dayton coach Anthony Grant is the first UD coach in this century to not reach the NCAA tournament in his sixth season. Oliver Purnell earned his first of two berths in his sixth season (1999-2000). Brian Gregory earned his second of two bids in his sixth season (2008-09). Archie Miller earned his fourth straight berth in his sixth and last season (2016-17).
Grant should get credit for 2020 when Dayton would have played in the NCAA tournament if it hadn’t been cancelled, but there’s no doubt he and everyone else is disappointed this season ended the way it did with a 68-56 loss Sunday to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Conference championship game. On the other hand, even in defeat, Grant had a lot of reasons to be proud of this team.
Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon asked Grant in the postgame press conference at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sunday if the emotions after a loss like that are still as raw as ever for the veteran coach.
“Like you said, I’ve been through this,” Grant said. “I’ve been in this profession for a long time. You and I joke about how we’ve both got a lot of gray on our faces. So I think adversity humbles you, and it teaches you perspective. It teaches you how to be grateful in the moment. My goal every day is just to take it one day at a time, and so to get to this point with what these guys had to go through and what I personally have had to go through, yeah, I think I’ve got a pretty decent perspective in terms of what really matters.”
What went wrong for Dayton? Here are five reasons Dayton failed to live up to those sky-high expectations:
From the start, Dayton had bad luck on the health front.
• Brea, a third-year guard, suffered a lower-body injury sometime in the summer. He and coach Anthony Grant declined to say exactly what it was. Brea missed the entire preseason, returned for the third game of the season at UNLV and then missed four games, including all three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis, with an illness.
• Kobe Elvis, a third-year guard in his second season with the program, hurt his knee in the second half against Brigham Young in the seventh-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis. He missed the next 12 games.
• Smith, a sophomore guard, injured his ankle midway through preseason practices and missed the first three games of the season. In his fourth game back, he injured his other ankle minutes after the Elvis injury in the final seconds of the second half. He missed the next 11 games. When he returned, he said he may need surgery after the season to fix his ankle issues.
• Blakney, a third-year guard, missed four games in a seven-game stretch in January and February. Grant said it was a combination of an injury and Blakney going through “personal stuff.” He averaged 7.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in the first 20 games and 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in his last 10 appearances.
• Smith suffered another ankle injury Feb. 4 at St. Bonaventure and missed the next game at Virginia Commonwealth. He returned to play in the last nine games.
• In the final game of the regular season at Saint Louis, Dayton lost two players to injuries. Freshman guard Mike Sharavjamts hurt his knee in the first half. Elvis banged knees with third-year forward Mustapha Amzil on the final play of the game. Sharavjamts missed the next game, an A-10 quarterfinal matchup with Saint Joseph’s, while Elvis missed all three games in the A-10 tournament.
The injuries hurt Dayton’s guard depth most of all. Grant was asked in the offseason if he thought about adding another point guard, given the team’s situation last March when Smith’s ankle injury in the A-10 tournament likely cost the team in a semifinal loss to Richmond. He said then, “Obviously, a lot of that depends on our ability to stay healthy and have guys available, but yeah, I’m comfortable with what we have.”
2. Lack of contributions from the full roster
Any team would have had trouble overcoming all those injury issues. Dayton would have been in a better spot if the players at the end of the bench had been able to contribute or given the chance to help.
UD decided to not fill all 13 scholarships and began the season with 12 scholarship players. One never played. Two played very little.
• Grant decided days before the season to redshirt Georgia transfer Tyrone Baker, who then entered the transfer portal in December.
• Sophomore forward Kaleb Washington appeared in two games. He was suspended twice during non-conference play before entering the transfer portal in December, one day after Baker.
• After missing his first season at Dayton because of an injury he suffered earlier in his career, redshirt sophomore Richard Amaefule played a total of 23 minutes in seven games, scoring one point.
3. Blown leads
In four of its 12 losses, Dayton lost double-digit leads.
• Dayton had a 32-22 halftime lead at UNLV in its third game of the season and lost 60-52.
• Dayton built a 32-9 lead against Brigham Young in the second game of the Battle 4 Atlantis and lost 79-75 in double overtime.
• Dayton led Virginia Commonwealth 33-17 with a minute to play in the first half and lost 63-62 after blowing a four-point lead in the final 30 seconds of the game.
• Dayton led Rhode Island 22-11 midway through the first half on Jan. 25 and lost 75-70 in its first game against the program’s former coach, Miller.
4. Late-game execution
In three of its losses, Dayton had a chance to win the game at the buzzer.
• Elvis had a shot blocked in the final seconds in a 43-42 loss to Wisconsin in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
• Smith turned his ankle while driving for what could have been a game-winning basket against BYU in the final game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
• Three turnovers in the final 30 seconds cost Dayton in the loss to VCU at UD Arena on Jan. 13. The Flyers still had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but Toumani Camara missed a shot near the rim with two defenders on him.
• In addition to those games, there was a 65-61 loss at Saint Louis on March 3 when Dayton had two chances to tie the game in the final 40 seconds. Mustapha Amzil was called for a travel on the first opportunity. Camara missed a shot in the paint on the second.
5. Offensive issues
Dayton scored 20 points in the second half in the loss at UNLV, 14 points in the first half in the loss to Wisconsin and 21 points in the first half in a 77-49 loss at Virginia Tech in December. The Virginia Tech loss was Dayton’s most lopsided in seven years.
Dayton’s 33.8% 3-point shooting was just below the national average (34.0). It was more than two percentage points worse than the previous season (36.1), even though Dayton had nearly the same roster.
Brea (42.3 to 37.0), Elvis (36.2 to 32.5) and Blakney (35.2 to 24.2) all saw their 3-point percentages decline.
Brea shot well for most of the season but made 1 of 18 3-pointers in the A-10 tournament. After making 4 of 6 3-pointers against Saint Joseph’s on Jan. 4, Blakney made 3 of 26 3-pointers in his last 14 appearances.
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