Dayton gets second chance against VCU earlier than expected

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Dayton vs. George Mason: Top 10 plays on Feb. 5, 2021

Rams have played just twice since routing Dayton on Jan. 23

Dayton Flyers center Jordy Tshimanga put this pandemic-stained basketball season in perspective Friday.

“Every day is a gift,” Tshimanga said, “and every game is an even better gift. We were grateful and fortunate to be able to play today.”

Dayton beat George Mason 74-65 for the second time this season at UD Arena. Other than Dayton holding a comfortable lead throughout the second half, it was a carbon copy of a Jan. 2 game, which UD won by the same score.

It’s hard to know what the victory means for the Atlantic 10 Conference standings because teams have played as many as 13 games (Rhode Island) and as few as three (Saint Louis). Dayton (11-5, 7-4) ranks sixth in the conference in winning percentage, but it’s tied for the league lead in victories with St. Bonaventure (9-2, 7-2). Figuring out seeds for the A-10 tournament at the end of the season will be a challenge. A number of teams won’t get to play the full 18-game schedule.

Dayton is on track to play all its games, though the schedule is a work in progress. The game against George Mason (8-8, 4-6) came about when Richmond (10-4, 4-2) couldn’t play Friday because of COVID-19 issues. Now Dayton will play Virginia Commonwealth (13-4, 6-2) at 5 p.m. Tuesday at UD Arena because Massachusetts (7-4, 6-2) shut down all its sports programs for a minimum of 14 days on Sunday because of a campus-wide COVID-19 surge.

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Dayton and VCU weren’t scheduled to play again until March 3 in the final game of the regular season. That game remains on the schedule for now, but the schedule could change.

The schedule change this week gives Dayton the chance to play a second straight game at home and the opportunity to avenge its most lopsided loss. VCU beat Dayton 66-43 on Jan. 23. The Flyers trailed 33-13 at halftime, matching a school record for fewest points in a half, and never challenged the Rams in the second half.

The second game in a season series often looks much different than the first. Three years ago, Dayton beat VCU 106-79 at UD Arena and then lost 88-84 in overtime at VCU a month later.

“It’s tough to beat a team twice,” said Dayton guard Elijah Weaver after the second victory against George Mason. “They’re familiar with what you do. We’re kind of familiar with what they do. We kind of knew what to expect, but it’s difficult because you’re going over the same thing again. It’s hard to stay focused if you have a young mind. It’s hard to stay locked in. It’s difficult, but with the coaches we have, with the scouting report, we answered the bell.”

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While the Flyers have played four games since their loss to VCU on Jan. 23, VCU has played only twice because games against Fordham and Duquesne were postponed. VCU beat La Salle 73-62 on Jan. 30 at home and then won 63-62 at Rhode Island on Wednesday.

In the Rhode Island game, VCU trailed 62-58 in the final minute. A 3-pointer by Nah’Shon Hyland gave VCU a one-point lead with five seconds to play. Then Rhode Island’s Ishmael Leggett was fouled with one second remaining. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1, allowing VCU to escape with the victory.

Hyland, who’s averaging 19.2 points per game, is one of the top contenders for the A-10 player of the year award along with Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher (19.4) and UMass center Tre Mitchell (20.0).

“Bones has made shots like that in his life before,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades told reporters. “You want guys that want that shot because they’re going to find a way to make it.”

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