Dayton’s high hopes for next season help soothe pain after NIT loss to Vanderbilt

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Dayton Flyers highlights: Final play of loss to Vanderbilt in NIT on March 20, 2022

Flyers finish 24-11 in Grant’s fifth season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coach Anthony Grant walked off the court after the game with his hands in the air, applauding the fans who traveled to see the Dayton Flyers play Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium. Assistant coach Ricardo Greer also waved to the crowd.

The players headed to the locker room Sunday with none of the tears that sometimes come with a season-ending postseason loss. Malachi Smith had his arm around the shoulders of Kobe Elvis as they put a 70-68 overtime defeat in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament in the rearview mirror and took their first steps toward a bright future.

Three years ago, Dayton’s season ended with a first-round loss in the NIT at Colorado, and Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher raved after the loss about their hopes for the following season, never imagining they could rise to No. 3 in the national polls and win 29 games.

The 2022-23 team may have a hard time replicating that type of success, but the hopes will be as high as ever if Dayton returns its core group from a team that finished 24-11. Every scholarship player on the roster has at least one more season of eligibility, and most could play two or three more seasons.

“Honestly, I just feel it’s scary how good we are going to be next year,” Smith said.

“We’re going to be really scary,” guard Koby Brea said. “The sky’s the limit.”

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The fifth season of the Grant era ended with a second-round loss in the National Invitation Tournament. One of the hardest-fought games of the season featured some tense moments between a former Flyer, Rodney Chatman, and Dayton’s young star, DaRon Holmes II, who went chest to chest after a hard foul on Toumani Camara.

The game also included a number of plays that would have led to Dayton playing one more home game this season — against its former rival Xavier of all teams — if they had gone the other way. That could be said about a number of Dayton’s 11 losses. This was its fifth loss by two points or fewer.

This game ended with Vanderbilt’s 7-foot center Liam Robbins blocking a shot by Kobe Elvis, who was making his second start at point guard with Smith sidelined by an ankle injury, with under a second to play in overtime.

“I tried to get him in the air, tried to draw contact,” Elvis said. “It didn’t go the way I wanted.”

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Dayton's Kobe Elvis has a shot blocked in the final seconds in overtime by Vanderbilt's Liam Robbins in the second round of the NIT on Sunday, March 20, 2022, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton's Kobe Elvis has a shot blocked in the final seconds in overtime by Vanderbilt's Liam Robbins in the second round of the NIT on Sunday, March 20, 2022, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

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Dayton's Kobe Elvis has a shot blocked in the final seconds in overtime by Vanderbilt's Liam Robbins in the second round of the NIT on Sunday, March 20, 2022, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton had the chance to tie the game because Chatman, a sixth-year player who scored nine points against his old team, missed two free throws with 12 seconds to play. The Flyers advanced the ball past half court and called timeout with 7.8 seconds left. They put the ball in the hands of Elvis.

“We tried to get downhill and draw contact,” Grant said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”

Although the game came down to the last play, Dayton lost the game in part because of the second chances Vanderbilt got in the final minute of the second half and again late in overtime.

Dayton had a 63-61 lead after a layup by Camara with 1:08 to play in regulation. Vanderbilt star Scotty Pippen Jr., whose dad Scottie Pippen, the NBA great, watched from the front row, missed a jump shot with 41 seconds to play, but Quentin Millora-Brown grabbed the offensive rebound and scored on a layup to tie the game at 63-63 with 23 seconds left.

Elvis turned the ball over on Dayton’s next possession. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright went the other way on the fast break. Holmes blocked his layup attempt in the final seconds.

In overtime, Dayton overcame a four-point deficit with four straight free throws by

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Blakney and Camara to tie the game. Then Pippen missed a jump shot with 53 seconds left. Robbins grabbed the offensive rebound. Wright missed a layup. Then Robbins got the board again, this time scoring what would turn out to be the game-winning basket.

“The 50-50 balls and second shots they got at the end of the game, they didn’t get a lot of them,” Grant said, “but they got timely ones that were difference makers in regulation and overtime.”

Dayton overcame an early 18-8 deficit to lead to 26-25 at halftime thanks in part to eight points in the half by Moulaye Sissoko. Holmes also had eight points in the first half and finished with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Elvis scored 20 points on 8-of-21 shooting.

Pippen finished with 32 points on 9-of-24 shooting and made 11 of 13 free throws. The No. 4 seed Commodores (19-16), who will play at No. 2 seed Xavier in the quarterfinals, made 10 of 26 3-pointers (38.5%), while Dayton made 4 of 16 (25%).

Third-year Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse hugged Grant in the handshake line after the game.

“That was one helluva game, man,” Stackhouse said. “Credit to coach Grant and his team. Those young guys really pushed us to the limit. It took everything that we had to win this game.”

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