The Dayton Flyers could provide scouting reports on half the teams in the Final Four.
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Virginia and Auburn, who will play each other in the first national semifinal at 6:09 p.m. Saturday, both played Dayton in the regular season. The only other common opponents for Virginia and Auburn are Duke and North Carolina.
Virginia handed Dayton its first loss of the season, 66-59 on Nov. 22 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Dayton trailed throughout the second half but cut the deficit to four points four times. The last time came at the 1:29 mark on a dunk by Obi Toppin. However, Virginia answered with a 3-pointer by De'Andre Hunter, who led the team with 23 points.
“That was a gritty game,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “It was hard fought. Dayton is tough to play against, and that’s one of the first games we’ve been in where possessions mattered late. De’Andre, I thought was great, the plays he made and how hard he played, and different guys stepped up. They had a bunch of points in the paint, 36, and they shot a high percentage so there’s certainly things to learn and grow from and some real good things as well.”
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That shot clinched the victory for the Cavaliers, who improved to 3-0 against Dayton. The teams hadn't played since 1987. Virginia didn't lead by more than nine points.
Dayton shot 54.3 percent in the game. It’s the third-best any team has done against Virginia this season.
Dayton did not play as well against Auburn, losing 82-72 on the road Dec. 8. Dayton made 11 of 23 3-pointers and shot 48.2 percent from the field, but turnovers doomed Dayton. It committed a season-high 23.
Dayton avoided a blowout, trimming a 19-point halftime deficit to six points early in the second half and twice getting as close as eight points in the final five minutes.
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The Flyers turned the ball over on their first three possessions and finished the first half with 16. That was the biggest reason they faced a 17-4 deficit after the first seven minutes and a 51-32 deficit at halftime.
“You’ve got to give Auburn credit,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “They’re a really good team, the eighth-ranked team in the country. In their building, we knew they would play with a lot of energy and emotion, and we would have to sustain our effort and our focus. I was proud of the guys for being able to do that in a hostile environment. They got us down 17-4. Guys never wavered. They continued to compete. They continued to stay together and gave us a chance. The run they had at the end of the first half was huge.”