Flyers go cold in final minutes, lose to Memphis in first round of NIT

Dayton's Jalen Crutcher dribbles against Memphis in a NIT first-round game on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas. Photo courtesy of NIT
Dayton's Jalen Crutcher dribbles against Memphis in a NIT first-round game on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas. Photo courtesy of NIT

Dayton finishes season with fourth-worst winning percentage this century

The Dayton Flyers scored two points in the final six minutes and lost 71-60 to Memphis in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on Saturday at UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas.

“They closed the game on a 15-2 run,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “We’ve got to be better than that.”

Dayton led 58-56 after a layup by Elijah Weaver at the 6:51 mark. Memphis then went on an 8-0 run in the next 95 seconds. Turnovers by Ibi Watson and Mustapha Amzil hurt Dayton during that stretch.

The run reached 10-0 before Watson made a jump shot with just over two minutes to play. By that point, Dayton hadn’t scored in almost five minutes. That would be the team’s last basket.

“We knew Memphis was a team capable of runs,” Grant said. “In the first half, we were able to keep them out of transition. That was a big reason we were able to have a one-point lead. They hurt us on the glass in the second half. They were able to get those offensive rebounds and get out in transition.”

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Dayton finished Grant’s fourth season with a 14-10 record. The .583 winning percentage is the program’s fourth worst this century.

“This team persevered,” Grant said. “They had to go through a lot. We saw at times this year we were as good as any team in our league, and other times, we saw how fragile it is and we were capable of being beat by any team in the league.”

Dayton lost in the first round in the NIT for the fourth straight time. Since beating North Carolina to win the championship in 2010, it has lost to Charleston (2011), Iowa (2012), Colorado (2019) and now Memphis.

Memphis (17-8), the No. 1 seed in Dayton’s corner of the bracket in the 16-team tournament, advanced to play No. 2 seed Boise State in the quarterfinals Thursday at the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas. Boise State beat No. 3 Southern Methodist 85-84 in the first round.

It was a back-and-forth game throughout the first half. Neither team led by more than five points. Dayton took a 28-27 lead into halftime when Mustapha Amzil made a 3-pointer with 1:09 to play.

Dayton opened the second half with a 6-0 run. Memphis answered with 9-0 run. After a 3-pointer by Koby Brea, Memphis ran off eight more points in a row to take a 43-37 lead.

In the final six minutes, Dayton made 1 of 8 shots. It still shot 50 percent from the field, while Memphis shot 44 percent. However, Memphis took 14 more shots because it had 17 offensive rebounds to Dayton’s two. Memphis outscored Dayton 12-0 in second-chance points.

Memphis has the nation’s No. 1 defense in terms of defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and Grant knew it would be a challenge.

“They speed you up,” Grant said, “and do a great job of taking you out of what you want to do through their full-court press. They create turnovers and force you to make plays. VCU is similar to that. (Memphis) took it to another level. I thought we handled it well in the first half. We had five turnovers. We were able to find shots and make plays. In the second half, there was a spurt where we took the lead, and then we had a couple of costly turnovers.”

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Weaver, who scored four points in Dayton’s last four games, led Dayton with 16 points. He made 4 of 4 3-pointers.

“This is what I’m capable of,” Weaver said. “I’ve got to get a sense of consistency. I’ve got to build on this and get back to work in the offseason.”

Watson had 13 points. Amzil had 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Playing against his hometown team for the first time, Jalen Crutcher had six points on 3-of-10 shooting.

Landers Nolley II led Memphis with 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting.

NOTES: Dayton played without Rodney Chatman and R.J. Blakney. After the game, Grant said Chatman sprained his MCL on March 5 during Dayton’s 73-68 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament quarterfinals. He said Blakney had been battling a calf strain all season and underwent a procedure earlier this month after the VCU game. He’ll be shut down for several more weeks as the offseason begins. ... This was the first meeting between Dayton and Memphis since 1995. Memphis has won five straight games in the series. Dayton last beat Memphis 82-64 at UD Arena in 1980.

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