Dayton will try to get offense back on track in rematch with VCU

Flyers lead the A-10 in scoring defense, and VCU ranks second

DaRon Holmes II heard Tuesday his image was now adorning a Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken billboard on Interstate 75 near UD Arena.

“It’s up?” he said. “You know I’m going there right after practice to take a picture.”

Holmes signed an endorsement deal earlier this month with the restaurant and will sign autographs at the Centerville location on the corner of Whipp and Far Hills Avenue from 4-5 p.m. on Feb. 20. He was named the A-10 Co-Rookie of the Week on Monday after scoring 19 points Jan. 25 in a 68-61 victory against Fordham and 12 in a 53-51 victory against Rhode Island on Friday.

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A bigger test for Holmes and Dayton (14-7, 6-2) comes at 9 p.m. Wednesday when they play Virginia Commonwealth (13-6, 6-2) at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. It’s the third straight game against an A-10 team with the Rams nickname for Dayton, and these Rams already beat Dayton 53-52 on Jan. 5 at UD Arena on a 3-pointer by Adrian “Ace” Baldwin with six seconds remaining.

Dayton and VCU trail first-place Davidson (16-3, 7-1) by one game. George Mason (11-7, 4-1) sits alone in second place, though it has played three fewer games because of COVID-19 postponements in early January.

Dayton has proven it can beat teams in the top tier of the league — St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis, for example — but still has to show it beat those kind of teams on the road and has to prove it can beat VCU, which has defeated Dayton home and away often in the last five seasons, winning eight of 11 games in the series.

This will be the first game at VCU for Holmes and three other starters: Toumani Camara; Malachi Smith; and Kobe Elvis.

“I heard it’s pretty loud, too,” Holmes said. “I’m really excited. There’s a lot of stuff between us and VCU. It’s a big rivalry. I didn’t know how big it was until I got to play against them and heard from some of their players, but I’m really excited for this opportunity.”

Dayton and VCU have the top scoring defenses in the A-10. In A-10 play, the Flyers are allowing 54.8 points per game. VCU is allowing 61.9. Dayton also leads the conference in defensive field-goal percentage (38.1). VCU ranks fourth (40.2).

Dayton has established an identity as a defensive team with a strong interior defense led by Holmes, who set UD’s single-season record with his 56th block in the last game, but the Flyers have hit a rut offensively. They had their worst shooting night of the season (31%) in a 50-49 loss at George Mason and then had an even worse performance (30.9%) in the victory against Rhode Island a week later.

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How does Dayton turn that around?

“We’ve got to make shots,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Some of it is just that simple. Some of it is obviously teams are doing a good job of putting game plans together to try to take away some of the things that we’ve been able to have success with. We’ve just got to understand that and do a better job of trying to take advantage of some other things that open up when you do that.”

“Teams are starting to scout us a little bit heavier,” Holmes said. “Our identity, teams are looking at it and they’re seeing how we play. But honestly, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing and listen to what the coaches say and incorporate what they say into the way we run our offense and we should be fine.”

Dayton’s offense runs through Smith, who struggled to make shots in the games against George Mason and Rhode Island, combining to make 5 of 23 field-goal attempts. In between, he made 4 of 8 shots against Fordham. Smith had his non-shooting left wrist heavily taped Friday and shot 0-of-8 from the field.

Grant didn’t think the injury caused any problems for Smith.

“I think he’s good to go,” Grant said. “He was able to play unaffected the last game, so we expect him to be able to go.”

WEDNESDAY’S GAME

Dayton at VCU, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290, 95.7

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