Shakeela Fowler was quick to grab the mic even though she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
“I am still overwhelmed and excited, and I don’t quite understand how I feel because this is just really like almost a dream,” the 5-foot-6 senior guard said after Dayton beat VCU 52-48 in the Atlantic 10 women’s basketball tournament championship game at UD Arena on Sunday.
“Being able to play in front of our fans on our court three games straight in a row and to win it all at our house is unreal. Not many teams get the chance to do that. That makes it all the more special.”
The last was the least aesthetically pleasing, but it was the most satisfying for a team eager end a two-year tournament title drought and punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament.
The top-seeded Flyers, who won the regular season title outright, outscored the second-seeded Rams 27-23 in the second half after the teams went to the locker room at halftime tied at 25.
Dayton’s Jayla Scaife was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and she had the game-clinching plays for the Flyers, who won their third A-10 tournament title and earned their ninth NCAA tournament bid.
The senior guard made a free throw with 13 seconds left to give UD a two-possession lead, then she swatted Taya Robinson’s 3-point attempt with the clock running down to add an exclamation point in front of 2,038 fans.
After scoring 25 points in Dayton’s semifinal victory over Saint Louis, Scaife scored 13 points against the Rams.
Kyla Whitehead also had 13 points for Dayton, including back-to-back baskets early in the fourth quarter that extended the Flyers’ lead to seven points.
VCU drew within a point twice in the final two minutes but could not get over the hump despite the game being played at the defensive-minded Rams’ pace.
“Credit VCU: I thought they played a really good game defensively,” Dayton coach Shauna Green said. “It wasn’t pretty, but this group continues to just find a way to win games and, and the toughness that they show, and it’s always someone different you know every single night.”
>>READ MORE: Dayton does enough to defeat Saint Louis
Fowler had eight points off the bench while starting point guard Araion Bradshaw had seven and the pair combined to hand out five assists.
Whitehead had 10 rebounds and made 4 of her 6 shots from the field on a day when the Flyers shot 29.6 percent as a team but still found a way to win.
“This is one of the closest and the toughest teams I’ve ever been a part of, if not the toughest, so this one means a lot,” said Green, who also coached the Flyers to a tournament title in 2017. “I wanted these guys to go out with this, and I felt personally a lot of pressure to make it happen for them, and they just they just took over. They took over at critical times, and I just can’t say enough of how proud I am and really how happy I am that they went out on top.”
>>GAME ONE: Flyers start hot, hold off Richmond
She admitted being torn about how to handle one aspect of the game before the tip.
Green knew the veteran Flyers would not lack motivation to win, so she opted against trying to add any, but inside she felt like the Flyers were playing for not just the chance to cut down the nets Sunday.
It was certainly their best if not their only chance to make it to the Big Dance.
“I really thought we had to win (to make the NCAA tournament),” she said. “I mean maybe that’s just me being a coach and not being too optimistic, but I felt like we had to win in order to get in.”
She debated telling her team that before the game but ultimately chose to keep it to herself rather than overburden them.
“They wanted to win no matter what,” she said. “I knew I didn’t need any motivation for them today, so I did not say that — and it worked out.
“I would have been questioning myself if we didn’t win,” she added with a laugh.
Robinson score 14 points to lead the Rams while Tera Reed had 11 and Danielle Hammond had 10.
Joining Scaife on the all-tournament team were Whitehead, Robinson, Hammond and Bre Cavanaugh of Fordham.
Next up the Flyers have eight days off before finding out their NCAA tournament seed and opponent on Monday, March 16.
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