Dayton’s Anthony Grant reacts after a score against Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Dayton Flyers play first-place team for second straight game Tuesday

Dayton can move into tie for third place with victory

“What a cool place to play,” Virginia Commonwealth’s Mike Rhoades said Saturday. “This was awesome.”

Rhoades had reason to gush. His team beat Dayton 69-68 to keep itself in contention for the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship in a season in which it was picked to finish seventh. The Rams are tied with Davidson — both are 19-6 overall and 10-2 in the league — with three weeks left in the regular season.

“A long way to go,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got to get ready for the next one. You can’t have a win not have you ready for the next one, and you can’t have a loss beat you again, so you get a good night’s sleep and get ready for the next one. It’s a privilege to be in this league because it’s a basketball league with great coaches, great players, unbelievable fan bases.”

» GAME PREVIEW: Dayton vs. Davidson

VCU’s performance shows no one knew quite what to expect from a number of A-10 teams. Saint Louis was the preseason favorite and sits in sixth place with five games to play. Saint Joseph’s, picked second, has slipped to 11th place. After being picked to place eighth, Massachusetts sits in last place with Fordham.

Dayton (16-9, 8-4) occupies fourth place after being picked sixth. The Flyers have already matched their A-10 win total from Anthony Grant’s first season but are 2-4 against teams with winning conference marks.

Dayton lost in the last minute twice to VCU and once to third-place George Mason, proving they can compete with the best in the conference. However, if they Flyers are going to win the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., in March, at some point they have to prove they can beat the teams they’ll likely face in the later rounds.

» WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Flyers top GW

Another chance comes at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a game at Davidson’s Belk Arena. Here are three storylines to follow entering the game:

1. Improved defense: In A-10 play, Davidson ranks third in scoring defense (65.1 points per game) and second in field-goal percentage defense (40.2). Davidson head coach Bob McKillop credited former Dayton assistant coach Kevin Kuwik, who was promoted from director of basketball operations to assistant coach in July, for helping the team improve on defense.

“Kevin just has a great feel for defense,” McKillop told the Charlotte Observor. “He’s been sensational in terms of his understanding of defensive concepts and principles. He’s like a defensive coordinator, but we don’t have that.”

2. Lack of depth: Dayton has seven scholarship players available for this game and likely will use a six-man rotation for most of the game. Frankie Policelli received five minutes of playing time Saturday with Trey Landers sidelined by a shoulder injury. Everyone else played at least 24 minutes.

» VCU GAME: Five takeaways | 20 photos | Notes

Davidson also doesn’t go deep on its bench. Its top two scorers, Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson, average 37.0 and 36.3 minutes per game. In its last game Friday against Saint Joseph’s, four starters played between 33 and 40 minutes. Its sixth man, Carter Collins, played 26 minutes, and a seventh player, Dusan Kovacevic, saw five minutes of action.

3. Race for seeds: Dayton sits alone in fourth place in the A-10, but has a trio of teams in close pursuit: Duquesne and Saint Louis (both 17-9, 8-5) and St. Bonaventure (11-14, 7-5). The Flyers can move into a tie for third with George Mason (15-11, 9-4) with a victory at Davidson.

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