PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — The dream of the Dayton Flyers winning their last eight regular-season games to claim the Atlantic 10 Conference championship and put themselves on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble ended Saturday at Tom Gola Arena, where many Dayton dreams have died over the years.
In 2015, Dayton needed a victory at La Salle to tie Davidson for the A-10 title and lost 55-53. A year later, Dayton climbed into the top 25 with a 12-2 record and five straight victories only to lose 61-57 at La Salle. A 71-53 loss at La Salle in the second-to-last game clinched Dayton’s first losing regular season since 2006.
The only Dayton team to win at La Salle in the last decade was one of the greatest Dayton teams in history. The 29-2 team routed the Explorers 84-58 in 2020.
The current Flyers probably know little about the program’s history with La Salle, but they know they lost 67-65 to the Explorers last season on a shot in the final seconds by Clifton Moore at UD Arena, so they had plenty of reasons to take them seriously. That knowledge just wasn’t enough on Saturday afternoon as La Salle overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to beat Dayton 62-60.
“Defensively, we didn’t guard,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “and we didn’t rebound the ball very well, and they took advantage of it.”
Dayton (20-9, 12-4) saw its five-game winning streak end. The loss leaves the Flyers two games behind Davidson (24-4, 14-2), which beat Fordham 66-45 on Saturday, with two games to play. Davidson can clinch a share of the title by winning at home against George Mason (13-13, 6-7) on Wednesday.
The Flyers play at Richmond (19-10, 10-6) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in their final A-10 road game and then play Davidson at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at UD Arena in the final game of the regular season. There won’t be as much drama with those games because of Dayton’s loss at La Salle. The Flyers will play to improve their seeding in the A-10 tournament, which is now likely their only path to playing in the NCAA tournament.
The Flyers had been creeping closer to the right side of the bubble, but a loss to a team ranked 246th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool should end that talk even with two opportunities to earn quality wins in the week ahead. This was Dayton’s worst loss since it fell at home to UMass Lowell (No. 250 in the NET) Lipscomb (No. 279) and Austin Peay (No. 285) in the first two weeks of the season.
La Salle (8-8, 3-13) ended a five-game losing streak by rallying from a 36-21 deficit in the second half. It scored 29 points in 10 minutes to take 50-43 lead with 6:37 to play. It shot 57.4% from the field in the first half after shooting 25% in the first half. Dayton missed 11 straight field-goal attempts during La Salle’s run.
Still, the Flyers had a chance to tie the game in the final minute. DaRon Holmes II, who tied Koby Brea for the team lead with 18 points, made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the deficit to 61-60 with 41 seconds to play. Holmes then blocked a 3-point attempt as the shot clock expired for La Salle.
Dayton called timeout for its final possession and gave the ball to Malachi Smith. He dribbled left above the 3-point line and then back to the right and passed to Koby Brea, who missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We had a couple options there,” Grant said. “We were trying to get Mali coming downhill, and we had a backdoor for R.J. (Blakney), and the other option was Koby coming to the top.”
Asked if he was happy with Brea’s shot, Grant said, “It was what was available.”
Brea made 3 of 7 3-pointers and even had a four-point play with 2:02 to play to cut the La Salle lead to 61-59. He said the plan was to set a screen for Smith and let him make a decision.
“We had Deuce (Holmes) rolling and attacking the rim and me coming off for the shot,” Brea said. “It felt good. I felt like it was going in. It happens.”
This was Dayton’s third A-10 loss in which it had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. It lost 53-52 to Virginia Commonwealth on Jan. 5 at UD Arena when Blakney grabbed a loose ball and missed a contested shot at the rim in the final seconds. It lost 50-49 at George Mason on Jan. 22 when Mustapha Amzil missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Once again, Dayton took a 3-pointer instead of attacking the rim. Holmes made 7 of 12 field goals and was attempting to post up near the free-throw line when Brea shot the ball.
“I was hoping to get it where I could like turn around and get close to the basket because we were only down by one,” Holmes said. “Brea was hot, so I understand that. I’m not upset at him for that.”
NOTES: The Flyers played without forward Toumani Camara, who was sidelined with a “lower body injury,” Grant said. He did not provide a timetable for his return. Zimi Nwokeji earned his most meaningful playing time of the season with Camara out. ... Dayton had shot better than 45 percent from 3-point range in its last five games, all victories, but shot 26.3 percent (5 of 19) in this game. ... Smith had nine assists with only one turnover and nine points but shot 4-of-12 from the field. ... Dayton matched its season low with seven turnovers.
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