Dayton heads to March with another performance to forget

Dayton stands for the national anthem before a game against Saint Louis on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

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Dayton stands for the national anthem before a game against Saint Louis on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

UD will play one more regular-season game, but there might not be much to gain in terms of seeding Monday at St. Bonaventure

Almost a year after winning all the national coaching awards, Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant finds himself searching for answers in a season with more ups and downs than the non-stop flapping wings of Saint Joseph’s Hawk mascot.

Grant has criticized himself in postgame interviews several times this season, and he did so again Wednesday after another perplexing defeat for the Dayton Flyers: 97-84 to Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia.

Grant blamed himself for the lineup decisions that led to Saint Joseph’s opening the game with a 24-7 run in the first six minutes.

‘It was my fault to start,” Grant told WHIO’s Larry Hansgen after the game. “We felt like we could match up, and as the game went, it was obvious we couldn’t.”

Grant did not start center Jordy Tshimanga and played Mustapha Amzil in his place. In a postgame interview with the Dayton Daily News, Grant said Tshimanga wasn’t injured. It was his decision to not play him, and he made it because he felt Dayton matched up better with Saint Joseph’s 3-point shooters without Tshimanga.

“They put five guys out there that all can shoot the 3 and stretch defenses,” Grant said. “I don’t know that we’ve played a team whose five man is able to run off screens and move at the pace that they move, and then the other four guys are able to either shoot it or put it on the floor and drive it in and space your defense.”

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Grant considered putting Tshimanga in the game when Saint Joseph’s dominated the opening minutes, but he had another reason for resting him.

“It’s been a long season,” Grant said, “and he’s had some bumps and bruises, so I felt like it was an opportunity to let him get a little healthy.”

Saint Joseph’s shot the ball so well from 3-point range, it’s hard to imagine any lineup change would have helped. The Hawks made 7 of 8 3-pointers in the first six minutes.

“We just didn’t handle our business,” Dayton guard Ibi Watson said. “We didn’t come out with the urgency we needed to, and they didn’t miss. They killed us.”

Saint Joseph’s made 11 of 34 3-pointers (32.3 percent) the rest of the way and finished 18 of 42 (42.9 percent). That followed a 10-of-23 3-point shooting performance (43.5 percent), their best of the season, in a 91-82 overtime victory Saturday at La Salle.

Grant knew the Hawks had shooters — especially with senior Ryan Daly back in the lineup — and that’s why he called them a dangerous team last week.

Daly did not play in the team’s first nine A-10 games because of an injury, and the Hawks lost them all. With Day back in the lineup, Saint Joseph’s (3-14 overall) is 2-0. He had 30 points against La Salle and 25 against Dayton on Senior Night, though Taylor Funk hurt Dayton the most, scoring a career-high 36 points. Four of the five Saint Joseph’s starters made at least four 3-pointers.

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Dayton outscored Saint Joseph’s by four points in the last 34 minutes, though it was only a close game for about a four-minute stretch early in the second half. Dayton cut a 16-point halftime deficit to 62-59 only to see the Hawks quickly push their lead back to double digits and then stretch it to as many as 22 points.

“They played the other day, and I think they showed what we saw,” Grant said. “You’re looking at a team that was hungry. They played two games this month, and they’re 2-0. As a coach, I’m looking at it and saying, ‘What could I have done better,’ so we would have been better prepared to be able to prevent the way the game started for us. We weren’t prepared for that. And so as a coach, I have to look at it and say, ‘How can I be better going forward?’ Give them credit. They played a heck of a game. They shot the ball extremely well, made 18 3s. It’s hard to overcome that. Then they also were able to get to the rim at high clip and either finish or get fouled so.”

It was not surprising Dayton lost at Hagan Arena, where it is 2-9 this century. It ended a nine-game losing streak last season there. It was surprising it lost four days after its most impressive victory of the season, a 76-53 rout of Saint Louis at UD Arena.

It was not surprising Dayton lost considering it had already lost to two of the A-10′s worst teams, Fordham and La Salle, but it was surprising Dayton gave up more points in a game since a 100-90 loss to George Washington in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament on March 4, 1999.

That’s how this season has gone for Dayton. The Flyers have taken a step back after all their great victories and have followed every loss with an improved performance. That’s why they’re right around .500 (8-7) in the conference with one game to play.

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Dayton (12-8 overall) remains in sixth place in the A-10. It plays Saint Bonaventure (12-3, 10-3) on Monday in Olean, N.Y., in the final game before the A-10 tournament. The game time has not been announced, but it will be televised on one of the ESPN networks.

The Bonnies, who are tied for first place with VCU (17-5, 10-3), beat Davidson (11-7, 6-4) twice this week: 69-58 in Olean on Sunday and 56-53 in North Carolina on Wednesday.

Dayton may not much to gain Monday in terms of seeding for the A-10 tournament. It’s not going to climb into the top four and receive a double bye. It’s unlikely to fall into the bottom four and have to play in the first round Wednesday.

Asked how Dayton will approach the game, which likely will come just three days before Dayton’s first game in the A-10 tournament in Richmond, Grant said it was too soon to speculate.

“Right now, I don’t know,” Grant said. “I’ve got to go back and look at it and see what makes sense for us.”

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