Dayton puts itself in the conversation for NCAA bid with performance in Charleston

Dayton picked up two good victories before losing to Houston

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Anthony Grant stopped to applaud the fans on his way to the locker room Sunday night. He directed his praise to each corner of TD Arena because Dayton Flyers fans were everywhere.

That was the case all weekend in Charleston, where you couldn’t walk a block on King Street without running into a member of the Flyer Faithful. A year earlier, everyone left the Bahamas disappointed after an 0-3 performance by the team. Thousands of fans still came to the Charleston Classic.

“Could literally shout out the entire team because everyone contributed so I’m shouting out the best fans in the country!” former Flyer Brooks Hall wrote on X on Friday after UD beat LSU and St. John’s in the first two rounds. “Dayton doesn’t win these two games without them!”

“Dayton fans roll deep,” Virginia Commonwealth fan Mat Shelton Eide wrote on X. “Considering their lack of tourney bids over the years, (Dayton) might have pound for pound the best fan support in college hoops. You’d think they were the team from the bigger conference in this game based on the crowd.”

A few of those same fans interrupted Nate Santos and Javon Bennett during their postgame press conference Thursday. They were watching through the windows on the street outside and started cheering and pounding on the glass. The players took a moment to acknowledge them before continuing to talk about the 70-67 victory against LSU.

No amount of support could save Dayton (3-2) on Sunday, however. Houston (6-0) was the top-ranked team in the Ken Pomeroy ratings and the No. 6 team in the Associated Press poll. It lived up to its billing, beating Dayton 69-55 in the Charleston Classic championship game.

Houston guards L.J. Cryer and Jamal Shead, who ranked 16th and 22nd, respectively, on a list of the top players in the country published by The Almanac before the season, combined for 34 points while making 6 of 11 3-pointers.

Houston took control of the game with a 10-0 run in the opening minutes, taking a 14-4 lead. Dayton got as close as four points, at 19-15 with 8:55 to play in the first half, only to see Houston go on a 7-0 run in the next 90 seconds.

Dayton still had hope at halftime as a 6-2 run cut Houston’s lead to 36-28. The Cougars then opened the second half with a 5-0 run and led by double digits the rest of the way, stretching its lead to as many as 20 points.

Dayton fell behind because Houston had 17 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points. Cold shooting also hurt the Flyers, who made 4 of 18 3-pointers (22.2%) against a defense ranked first in the country in efficiency. It was Dayton’s second-worst shooting performance of the season and worst since it made 5 of 23 (21.7%) in the opener.

In the last three seasons, Houston is 29-3 in non-conference regular-season games with the only losses coming to top-40 teams in the Ken Pomeroy ratings.

“Final Four, Sweet 16, these guys have all cut down nets,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said of his veterans. “They know what winning is. They have high standards. They’re the ones that drive us, and they’re great role models for these young kids.”

Dayton fell to 0-4 against No. 1 teams in the Pomeroy rankings. Its previous losses were to North Carolina in 2006, Virginia in 2018 and Kansas in 2019. The Flyers also fell to 2-5 against AP top-25 teams in Grant’s seven seasons.

Dayton’s loss to Houston wasn’t the big story of the weekend. The victories against LSU and St. John’s were. Dayton kept its hopes of earning a NCAA tournament at-large berth alive, knowing it still has work to do in the eight remaining non-conference games.

LSU and St. John’s helped Dayton’s case by winning their other two games in the tournament. LSU, which blew a 15-point second-half lead against Dayton, bounced back from a first-round loss by beating North Texas and Wake Forest. St. John’s beat North Texas in the first round and Utah in the third-place game.

Dayton still left with its best finish in the tournament after placing fifth in 2012 and sixth in 2017. This was its third runner-up finish in a November tournament in the last nine seasons. It fell to Xavier in the Advocare Invitational final in 2015 and to Kansas in the Maui Invitational final in 2019.

The last five times Dayton has earned a NCAA tournament bid, if you count 2020 when the tournament was cancelled, it has won two of three games in its November tournament.

“These games are really important,” Grant said. “You have an opportunity to put yourself in a position where you’re in a conversation for what happens in March. That’s the goal. We always talk about the beginning with the end in mind.”

Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II led the team with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the final game. Nate Santos, who was named to the all-tournament team, had 14 points and averaged 17.0 points in the three games.

“This team is going to be special,” Holmes said. “This was a good learning opportunity for us.”


Youngstown State at Dayton, 7 p.m., 1290, 95.7

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

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