George Mason stamped itself as a legitimate contender in the Atlantic 10. The Dayton Flyers suffered the kind of loss — blowing a late lead at home — that will make everyone question whether it can hang with the top teams in the conference with the toughest part of the schedule looming in February.
For the second time in three games, Dayton's offense sputtered in the final minutes. It scored two points in the last four minutes in a 76-71 loss at Virginia Commonwealth and didn't score in the last 2:58 Wednesday in a 67-63 loss to the Patriots at UD Arena.
After the Flyers (12-7, 4-2) took a 63-60 lead on a 3-pointer by Jordan Davis, George Mason (12-8, 6-1) outscored them 7-0 down the stretch. It was Dayton's fifth straight game decided in the final minute.
"Some games we were fortunate enough to win, and you try to learn lessons," Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. "A couple we've lost. The VCU game we lost in a similar situation in terms of it being a one or two-possession game. We'll go back and look, and there will be a dozen or more plays that if we do the right thing, we cut those mistakes in half and we win the game. For our team to reach its potential at some point, we've got to change in terms of not doing the same thing over and over again. We've got to change that. We've got to mature."
Here are five reasons Dayton lost:
1. Last look fails: Dayton trailed 65-63 and had a chance to tie the game with 19 seconds left. Jordan Davis missed a running floater just outside the lane, but the ball bounced off George Mason and went out of bounds.
Then after calling two timeouts to set up the next play — one just to get the ball to the other side of the court so it wouldn't have to in-bound the ball from the corner — Jalen Crutcher missed a 3-pointer in front of the Dayton bench. The play started with forward Ryan Mikesell throwing an in-bounds pass to Josh Cunningham, who gave it right back to Mikesell.
Cunningham led the Flyers with 15 points. Obi Toppin added 11 points. Mikesell scored 10. None of those players got the last shot. Instead, it went to Crutcher, who hit the key 3-pointer to beat Massachusetts in the last home game.
"We had about three or four options, and then we got down to the last option and I threw it to Josh (Cunningham)," Mikesell said. "I came off that hand-off, and I had about two or three guys on me. I wasn't going to force up a shot. Jalen had a great look right at the wing. It was good execution. We got the shot we wanted, but the game shouldn't have come down to that last shot. There were plays throughout the course of the game that should have been different on our part."
2. Missed 3-pointers: Dayton had won its last three A-10 games in part by shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. The shots didn't fall in this one. Jordan Davis missed his first seven 3-pointers before making 2 of 3 in the last seven minutes. Jalen Crutcher made 2 of 9.
The Flyers took more 3-pointers in a game than they had all season and made 8 of 27 (29.6 percent). Inside the arc, Dayton was as good as always. It made 17 of 27 shots (62.9). Entering the game, it ranked second in the country in 2-point field-goal percentage (60.0).
"We knew they were going to pack the paint, and we were getting open looks," Mikesell said. "If JD shoots it like he did against George Washington, it's a different story. Same with Jalen. Jalen's a 40 percent 3-point shooter. We got looks tonight. We're going to continue to shoot them. But obviously the emphasis is to get the ball inside. When they pack it in the paint, we've got to relieve some pressure for those guys."
3. Another late fade: Davis missed a fast-break layup with 2:30 to play. A basket would have given Dayton a 65-60 lead.
Obi Toppin committed a turnover with a bad pass on Dayton's next possession. It led directly to a go-ahead putback dunk by Ian Boyd with 1:32 left. Toppin had a chance to make amends but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the next possession.
"It hurt, but some people mess up and make mistakes," Toppin said. "You have to learn from it, and I'll learn from that turnover."
Davis then missed a 3-pointer with 1:01 to play but grabbed the rebound. Crutcher got the ball and faked a 3-point attempt but traveled in the process.
In all, Dayton missed four shots and a free throw and committed three turnovers in the last 2:58. It was a similar story a week earlier when Dayton made 1 of 6 shots and committed two turnovers in the last four minutes in the loss at VCU. The Rams outscored Dayton 11-2 down the stretch.
4. Free-throw disparity: George Mason made 13 of 16 free throws, including two by forward Jarred Reuter, who sealed the victory with 10 seconds left. Reuter led the Patriots with 14 points.
The Patriots entered the game with the best free-throw shooting percentage in A-10 play (83.2). Dayton ranked 10th in that category (64.7 percent in five A-10 games) and shot even worse in this game (5 of 9, 55.6 percent).
5. Defensive issues: The Patriots shot 54.5 percent from the field in the second half after shooting 38.7 percent in the first half. They also committed only eight turnovers, while Dayton had 15. It all added up to Dayton's first A-10 home loss since last January. It had won seven straight league games at UD Arena.
"It would be an understatement to say we're obviously disappointed with the loss here at home," Grant said. "We had a great crowd tonight (12,895), a lot of enthusiasm in the building. Unfortunately, we weren't able to make enough plays on both ends of the floor. Give Mason credit. They've got a really good basketball team. They made plays down the stretch. Some costly turnovers by us, some costly possessions in terms of opportunities at the free-throw line, opportunities at the rim, opportunities at open looks. We couldn't make enough plays, and then defensively in the second half, we weren't as crisp as we needed to be."