A single piece of confetti fell from the roof of the Ryan Center during the national anthem Friday. A few more fell during the game. Someone on Rhode Island’s staff had to be holding their breath, hoping it all didn’t fall too soon.
No. 18 Rhode Island wouldn’t have prepared a confetti shower if it didn’t feel confident in beating the Dayton Flyers, and it had every reason to think that wouldn’t be a problem, an 88-74 victory in Dayton in January being the biggest.
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For 32 minutes, however, the Flyers tried to play spoiler. They led by as many as seven points in the first half, trailed 36-34 at halftime and cut Rhode Island’s lead to 39-38 two minutes into the second half. That’s when the Rams started playing like the regular-season champion — they had already clinched a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season title — and the Flyers started playing a team fighting to stay in the middle of the A-10 pack.
The 81-56 final score goes in the book as Dayton’s worst loss of the season. The Rams (23-4, 15-1) danced under the confetti after the game, celebrating with the student section, just as Dayton did the last two seasons after winning A-10 titles at UD Arena. They hoisted the trophy. They cut down the net. Dayton had long fled to the locker room, though its first-year coach hope the memory pays dividends at some point down the line.
“We need to have the internal motivation to learn from this,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Dominant Rams: The Rams shot 64.3 percent from the field in the second half to break open a close game. A 9-0 run early in the second half turned the game in their favor. Dayton trailed by double-digits for the last 13 minutes and fell behind by as many as 31 points.
“They hit shots,” Dayton guard Trey Landers said. “They got stops, and they got out in transition. That’s about it.”
2. History made: Rhode Island won the A-10 tournament last season. This is is the first time it has won a regular-season title of any sort since sharing the Eastern Eight championship in 1980-81.
Rhode Island is the fourth different team to win the A-10 title outright in the last five seasons (three teams shared the championship in 2016). Two of those other champions (Dayton in 2017 and Saint Louis in 2014) have been led by large senior classes, as Rhode Island is. It starts four senior guards.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled,” Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. “In the second half, these guys were amazing. That was our first goal accomplished, and we’re going to enjoy the heck out of this one overnight and tomorrow.”
3. Turnovers hurt: Dayton committed 22 turnovers and fell to last in the A-10 in turnovers per game (13.9). Opponents average 16.6 turnovers against the Rams, who lead the Atlantic 10 in that category.
“They’re really good,” Grant said. “The cumulative effect of their pressure took its toll. We had guys that played long stretches that over the course of a 40-minute game couldn’t sustain what we started early.”
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4. Cold stretch: Dayton shot 58.3 percent from the floor (14 of 24) in the first half and 37.5 percent (3 of 8) from 3-point range. It was a different story in the second half. The Flyers missed all 10 of their 3-point attempts and shot 27.3 percent (6 of 22) from the field.
Jalen Crutcher led the Flyers with 12 points. Trey Landers had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Dayton’s leading scorers on the season, Josh Cunningham and Darrell Davis, combined to score 11 points.
5. Big picture: Dayton (13-15, 7-9) now has to win at La Salle on Wednesday and at home against George Washington in the regular-season finale March 3 to finish the regular season at .500.
The Flyers fell to 1-8 in true road games and were swept by Rhode Island for the first time. The Flyers began the day with hopes of competing for the No. 4 seed in the A-10 tournament. They fell from a tie for sixth into ninth place.
“Hopefully, it’s a learning experience for a lot of our young guys,” Grant said. “We’ve got an opportunity with two games left to make sure we represent the University of Dayton and Dayton basketball with the way we play. The ability to play for 40 minutes is really important. It really matters. A tough loss. It’s one loss. We’ll move on and get ready for La Salle on Wednesday.”