Dayton forward Ryan Mikesell, who led all scorers with 22 points, couldn’t explain the difference between the Rams (19-6, 10-2) and the Flyers (16-9, 8-4) at the end of games.
“I really don’t know,” Mikesell said. “They’re a good team. They’re really tough — their coach and their players. You know that going into the game. They weren’t afraid of the environment. You could tell. They were ready to go at the start of the game. Hopefully, we see them again and get another chance at them.”
» INJURY NEWS: Flyers down one player for VCU game
If that chance comes, it will come in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Atlantic 10 tournament in a month. Until then, here are five takeaways from another classic game in a growing rivalry:
1. Winning shot: Evans, a junior guard who played his first two seasons at Rice, made the tie-breaking 3-pointer in front of Trey Landers with 33 seconds to play in a 76-71 victory against Dayton on Jan. 16 in Richmond. A month later, he beat Dwayne Cohill off the dribble at the 3-point line and made a tough shot over Josh Cunningham.
“Evans finds a way to make big plays at big times during the course of the game,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “He did it again tonight.”
The basket followed a missed free throw by Toppin, who failed to convert a 3-point play. VCU didn’t call timeout after the miss. It let Evans go to work.
“We knew what we were going to do,” said VCU coach Mike Rhoades, who coached Evans at Rice before getting the job at VCU in 2017. “We practice off missed and made free throws. We talk about time and score all the time. Why call a timeout and let Dayton change their defense and change their matchups.”
Anthony Grant: 'I couldn't be prouder' of Dayton's fight in loss to VCU
2. Last chances: Dayton took the same approach following the basket by Evans. It put the ball in the hands of Jordan Davis, who dribbled the length of the floor before having a shot blocked out of bounds with just under a second to play.
“I looked at the clock, and I think there were eight seconds when they scored,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “and rather than calling a timeout and letting them set their defense, our hope was we could get in transition and get something at the rim and try to score. If I felt like we didn’t have something at halfcourt, then we had one timeout left.”
» ALUMNI UPDATES: How former Flyers are doing in G League | Darrell Davis talks about first season in pro basketball
Mikesell in-bounded the ball under the basket with 0.7 seconds left and lobbed a pass to Toppin in the paint. Corey Douglas grabbed it instead. It was the last of 14 turnovers for Dayton.
3. Crucial stretch: Dayton trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and faced a 41-29 halftime deficit. Then the Rams outscored the Flyers 10-0 in the first two minutes of the second half.
“The zone (defense) to start the second half was disastrous,” Grant said. “I’ll take the blame for that. That’s on me.”
4. Big comeback: A 3-pointer by Mikesell stopped VCU's run to start the second half. Still, Dayton faced a 55-34 deficit with 15 minutes to play. That's when the comeback began.
A 3-pointer by Jalen Crutcher started a 26-4 run. Crutcher punctuated the run with an alley-opp pass to Toppin, giving Dayton a 60-59 lead with 4:50 to play.
“Having a 22-point lead at Dayton is fool’s gold,” Rhoades said. “I kept saying it to myself, ‘No matter what, these guys are going to make a run.’”
5. Big picture: Dayton still finds itself in a good position to earn one of the top four seeds in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and a bye into the quarterfinals but has work to do. It sits in fourth place, a half game ahead of Duquesne and Saint Louis (both 17-9, 8-5), and it plays both those teams in the final six games.
Dayton at Davidson, 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network, AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO