Dayton reaches 20 victories by putting away La Salle in second half

Flyers will be either No. 2 or No. 3 seed in A-10 tournament after earning 20th victory

No player had taken the last walk of Senior Night in front of a full UD Arena in three years until Toumani Camara left the game with 89 seconds remaining Tuesday. He lifted his arms in the air to pay acknowledge the cheers of 13,407 fans and then hugged Anthony Grant, the rest of the coaches and his teammates before taking a seat on the bench as the Dayton Flyers completed a 77-53 victory against La Salle.

Seniors Trey Landers and Ryan Mikesell, as well as redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin, who everyone knew was playing his last game, took that walk on March 7, 2020. A year later, only a handful of fans saw Jalen Crutcher, Ibi Watson, Jordy Tshimanga and Rodney Chatman play their last home game because of attendance restrictions during the pandemic. Last year, Dayton’s only seniors were walk-ons Christian Wilson and Drew Swerlein.

Camara has the option of returning for another season in college basketball. He won’t have to make that decision until after the season. If this was his last home game, though, he wanted to savor it.

In a season that has seen Dayton fall short of its goals of building a NCAA tournament resume and winning the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship, the team at least gave everyone one last strong performance on Tom Blackburn Court.

“We came out with a victory,” Camara said. “We played hard at the end. There was moments where it was a shaky. I think we got a little too comfortable. We were able to bounce back and come back to our true identity, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Dayton opened the game with a 13-2 run, built a 16-point lead in the first half and then saw that lead trimmed to seven at halftime and to six seven minutes into the second half. From that point forward, though, the Flyers dominated.

Dayton (20-10, 12-5) led from start to finish for the third time in four games in its 12th straight Senior Night victory.

“I thought the last 12 or 13 minutes we played the way that we need to play,” Grant said. “There was some spurts there early that I wasn’t very happy with but the guys were able to fix that and respond and come out with a good victory.”

On the same night Virginia Commonwealth (23-7, 14-3) clinched the A-10 championship outright and the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament by beating Saint Louis 79-67 in Richmond, Va., Dayton clinched a top-four seed and a double bye to the quarterfinals.

The Flyers will be the No. 2 seed if they win at Saint Louis (19-11, 11-6) at 7 p.m. Friday but could still get the No. 2 seed even if they lose, depending on what Fordham (23-6, 11-5) does in its last two games against George Mason and Duquesne. Dayton won’t get anything worse than the No. 3 seed.

If Dayton is the No. 2 seed, it will play its first A-10 tournament game at 5 p.m. March 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. If it’s the No. 3 seed, it will play at 7:30 p.m. The quarterfinal winners get Friday off and don’t play semifinals until Saturday. The championship game takes place at 1 p.m. on March 12, which is Selection Sunday.

Dayton entered March on the heels of its first victory this season with a fully healthy roster. It lost to George Washington and George Mason with everyone available. The game against La Salle was its third game with no one sidelined by injury or illness.

The Flyers had to put the disappointment of the 74-69 loss at home to George Mason on Saturday behind them fast.

“I give credit to our coaching staff,” point guard Malachi Smith said. “At practice the next day, they made sure we were locked in. We had to move on — it was a quick turnaround — and come back to defend our home court. We needed this win to help us with seeding.”

Smith tallied 10 assists, his second-highest total of the season. He had six assists in a six-minute span in which Grant stuck with a little-used lineup of Smith, DaRon Holmes, Koby Brea, Mike Sharavjamts and Mustapha Amzil. That group stayed on the court together for nearly a 10-minute stretch in the second half. During that time, Dayton pushed a 45-39 lead to as many as 21 points.

Koby Brea, who scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, made all three of his 3s during that stretch.

“I think the thing that you look for is guys that bring a level of energy,” Grant said. “That group was able to stretch the lead. They were able to get stops. They played well together. When you look at our year, we’ve had guys that have had to assume different roles, playing different positions. So I can’t remember that group necessarily being together on the floor for that amount of time.”

DaRon Holmes II led the Flyers with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds to record his 11th double-double of the season. He’s five points short of the 1,000-point mark in his career. When he gets there, he’ll be the first true sophomore in Dayton history to reach the milestone.

Dayton made 12 of 23 3-pointers (52%), while La Salle made 7 of 24 (29%). Dayton has shot better than 50% in back-to-back games for the first time this season. It made 7 of 12 (58.3%) against George Mason.

Mike Sharavjamts made 3 of 7 3-pointers, scoring nine points. It was the first time he made three 3s in a game since November.

Dayton avenged two two-point losses to La Salle — 62-60 in Philadelphia last season and 67-65 in the A-10 opener in the 2020-21 season — handed the Explorers (13-17, 7-10) their fourth straight loss. First-year La Salle coach Fran Dunphy suffered his second straight loss at UD Arena. In his final game at Temple in 2019, the Owls lost to Belmont in the First Four.

“We fell down a little bit early in the first half,” Dunphy said, “but that nice 9-0 run gets us back to down six at the at the half. Then in the second half, we had a couple of plays that just killed us. There were two rebounds off missed foul shots — one for a layup, one for a 3. That’s five points right there. We missed a number of layups. We missed a two-shot foul. Then they made two 3s at the end of shot clocks that just absolutely destroyed us. If you’re going to come here and win the game, you can’t have those kinds of things happen to you.”


Dayton at Saint Louis, 7 p.m., ESPN2, 1290, 95.7

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