Dayton’s defense steps up in victory against Virginia Tech

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Mustapha Amzil interview: Dec. 12, 2021

Hokies make season-low six 3-pointers

Sixteen days after the first Flyer from Finland made himself famous with The Finnish, Mustapha Amzil gave his first interview to local media.

» PHOTOS: Dayton vs. Virginia Tech

Amzil didn’t have to do anything quite so heroic Sunday in a 62-57 victory against Virginia Tech at UD Arena. He was one of two players chosen to speak at the postgame press conference because he ranked second on the team with 11 points and made one of the key baskets late in the game to give Dayton a comfortable cushion in the final minute as it knocked off a team expected to be one of the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Of course, this was as good a chance as any to revisit his buzzer-beater in a 74-73 victory against No. 4 Kansas on Nov 26.

“It was a big thing,” Amzil said. “I didn’t expect it to be that big.”

Amzil’s phone — as they say — blew up in the hours after his fortunate bounce. It being an afternoon game, his family didn’t have to stay up quite so late at home in Finland, so they saw the shot live on television. Back in Dayton in recent weeks, he hasn’t felt any more famous than usual.

“They treat us pretty good,” Amzil said. “It’s a basketball school. Everybody knows us, and I appreciate everybody.”

While most Dayton fans did not get to witness that victory against Kansas in person in Florida, they have seen the transformation of the team firsthand at home in the last two weeks. The Flyers routed Alabama State and Northern Illinois after winning the ESPN Events Invitational before stumbling Wednesday in a 77-69 loss at Southern Methodist.

This victory against Virginia Tech ranks as Dayton’s second-best, according to the NCAA Evaluation Tool. Virginia Tech (7-4) ranks 32nd in the NET. Dayton’s other top-50 victories came against No. 7 Kansas and No. 37 Belmont. The Flyers (7-4), who ranked 112th before this win, also have losses to three teams ranked below 175: UMass Lowell; Lipscomb; and Austin Peay.

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R.J. Blakney interview: Dec. 12, 2021

Dayton gets two more opportunities — at No. 176 Mississippi on Saturday at home against No. 259 Southern on Dec. 21 — to improve its resume before the 18-game Atlantic 10 Conference schedule begins Dec. 30.

“This was important,” Amzil said. “We know our level. The last game, it was in our hands. If we would have played a little bit more physical and imposed our will, we could have gotten that win. We were hungry for this game and to get the win today.”

Amzil and R.J. Blakney, who scored a career-high 19 points and made 5 of 5 3-pointers, combined to carry the offense, but it was the defense that won the game. The Flyers held Virginia Tech to a season-worst performance (6 of 22, 27.3 percent) from 3-point range. Even after posting that number, the Hokies are shooting 39.3 percent, which ranks 17th in the nation.

Neither team scored in the first four minutes. After the Hokies took a 2-0 lead, Dayton took control with a 10-0 run over the next three minutes and never let the Hokies get closer than four points in the rest of the first half or closer than five points in the second half.

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Dayton pushed its lead to 47-29 early in the second half before going through an 11-minute offensive slump that included one field goal by Amzil and five free throws: four by Amzil and one by Elijah Weaver.

A 3-pointer by Blakney with 2:04 to play and then a layup by Amzil with 1:01 to play helped seal the victory.

“I thought the story of the game was the effort and energy that guys played with right from the jump,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We knew coming in, Virginia Tech, both offensively and defensively, was one of the more efficient teams in the country. We talked about having appropriate fear, just understanding what they were capable of and what we needed to do and how disruptive we needed to be. I thought our guys did a great job tonight to be able to do that.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Dayton at Mississippi, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network, 1290, 95.7

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Anthony Grant press conference: Dec. 12, 2021

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