The Dayton Flyers hit rock bottom in the 2017-18 season when they lost 85-67 at George Mason in February. The starters sat the last five minutes. The coaches watched most of that stretch with blank stares.
The Patriots, who had lost seven straight games in the series, handed the Flyers what was then their most lopsided loss of the season.
“Obviously, you’re going to have nights when shots don’t fall,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said after that game, “but you’ve got to have a toughness about you that you can play through that on the defensive end and get stops and get rebounds.”
» PREVIEW: What to know about Dayton vs. George Mason
A year later, as the teams prepare for a 7 p.m. Wednesday rematch at UD Arena, much has changed for the Flyers.
Dayton (12-6, 4-1) has shown a toughness with late rallies to win Atlantic 10 road games at George Washington and St. Bonaventure, but it has yet to beat one of the conference’s top teams and George Mason (11-8, 5-1) has to be included in that group. It was picked to finish fourth in the conference, two spots ahead of Dayton, and sits a half game back of Saint Louis (14-4, 5-0) about a third of the way through the A-10 schedule.
“I watched a few of their games,” Dayton forward Ryan Mikesell said. “I know they’ve got two guards who are really good. They’re really going to space you out and make make sure you guard one on one. They’re going to try to expose anyone out there. If we play team defense, I like our chances against them. They’re a great team, and they’re playing really well right now.”
Here are three things to know about the game:
1. Rejuvenated team: The Patriots returned everyone from last season when they were 16-17 overall and 9-9 in the A-10. That’s the reason they were picked fourth even though they have never had a winning conference record in their five seasons in the league.
With high expectations, George Mason started the season with losses to Penn, American and Georgia Southern. The Patriots started playing better in December and nearly upset Kansas State (14-4) on the road, losing 59-58 in their last non-conference game.
That performance set the stage for a strong start in A-10 play. George Mason has road wins at St. Joseph’s, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It suffered its only A-10 loss at home Jan. 9, 61-56 to Davidson.
“Obviously, they had some struggles in non-conference play,” Grant said, “but I think they’re playing as good as anybody in the league right now. They’ve got a variety of guys who have stepped up.”
2. Clutch performer: Senior guard Otis Livingston II scored 29 points against Dayton last season and has 1,694 in his career. He hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer Saturday to beat Fordham 71-68 as the Patriots avoided what would have been the biggest upset in the conference so far this season. Fordham finished 9-4 against a soft non-conference schedule and is 0-5 in A-10 play.
It was the second career buzzer-beater for Livingston, who beat St. Joseph’s 81-79 with a deep 3-pointer as time expired last season.
“Everything slows down and gets quiet,” Livingston II told the Augusta Free Press on Saturday. “It’s a natural thing. I read the play, see where my guys are on the floor and make the best possible read I can.”
3. Player to watch: George Mason junior guard Justin Kier has put himself in contention for the A-10 Player of the Year Award. In A-10 play, he leads the conference in scoring (19.7) and rebounding (11.3).
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