The Dayton Flyers improved in coach Anthony Grant’s second season: 14-17 to 21-12 to be exact. The season was a success in that respect, if a season without championships or postseason victories can be considered a success for a program with aspirations such as Dayton’s.
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However, this season was always about next season. Dayton coaches added more help for 2019-20 — four transfers sitting out this season — than they did for 2018-19, and that hurt the chances of this team, especially when Dayton lost Jhery Matos for the season in November and had to play the last 27 games with largely a seven-man rotation.
Focus shifted to next November as soon as the madness ended for Dayton in March. For a team and a fan base looking forward to seeing what next year brings — continually some would say — it was not to soon to discuss the future minutes after a 78-73 loss to Colorado in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday at the CU Events Center.
“We have a starting five,” Dayton forward Obi Toppin said, “and then we’ve got another starting five right on the bench.”
“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Grant said. “Like I told these guys, we’ve got to make sure we learn our lessons because I think we were really close this year to achieving the things we talk about achieving in terms of championships, NCAA tournament bids and things along those lines.”
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Dayton built momentum for the postseason by winning five of its last six regular-season games only to fail to win a postseason game for the third straight season. It has lost seven A-10, NCAA tournament and NIT games in a row. Like many of the games in that streak and many of the other losses this season — there were seven losses by five points or fewer — the defeat at Colorado followed a familiar script.
Here are three reasons Dayton lost:
1. Late fade: Colorado (22-12) outscored Dayton 8-0 from the 5:00 mark in the second half to the 2:00 mark, clinching the victory in a game that had been tight most of the night. Two 3-pointers by D'Shawn Schwartz and a layup by McKinley Wright — those players led the Buffaloes with 19 points each — in that stretch were not answered by Dayton.
Ryan Mikesell missed a 3-pointer. Josh Cunningham missed a short jump shot. Trey Landers missed a layup, grabbed the rebound and missed another rebound and then hung his head in disappointment. Jalen Crutcher followed with another missed layup, and by that point, the game was over.
For 35 minutes, Dayton played well. The Flyers didn’t have enough energy or poise — or something — at the end, and the same could be said in their previous loss to Saint Louis on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and numerous times throughout the season.
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“I thought it was a really good game,” Grant said. “Colorado’s got a good team. They’ve got some really good young talent. They made plays. From a defensive standpoint, the 3-point line hurt us tonight. They made some big ones. I’ll have to go look at the film, but at the end of the day, it was a well-played game. We had some guys that battled, that played through a little foul trouble, played through a variety of different things that went on in the game.”
Colorado made 8 of 21 3-pointers and 4 of 9 in the second half despite a deeper 3-point line. Teams will shoot from the international distance throughout the NIT. It’s 1 foot, 8 inches longer than the college distance.
2. Foul trouble: Toppin closed his first season on the court in college basketball with another impressive game. He became Dayton's top scorer during A-10 play, passing Josh Cunningham, and the difference in their games was never more evident than Tuesday.
Toppin scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 28 minutes and grabbed six rebounds. Cunningham had five points on 2-of-4 shooting with two rebounds in 31 minutes in his final game.
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Only fouls limited Toppin. He picked up his third in the third minute of the second half and sat on the bench for the next eight minutes. Dayton trailed 43-42 when Toppin left the game and 58-56 when he returned. In between, Dayton built a seven-point lead and then lost it.
“Picking up the third foul was bad,” Toppin said, “but the next person stepped up and came in and did what they had to do. We just didn’t get enough stops with 10 minutes left in the second half. That killed us.”
3. Wasted accuracy: Dayton lost despite shooting 54.5 percent from the field (30 of 55). Colorado shot 44.3 percent but took six more shots and outscored Dayton 16-8 at the free-throw line. The Buffaloes also outscored Dayton 11-4 in second-chance points.
“That was a high-level basketball game tonight,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “The people that came tonight and saw that in person I think left saying, ‘We saw a good college basketball team: two good teams.’ I told our guys bad teams aren’t playing anymore. The only ones playing in whatever tournament you’re talking about are good basketball teams. Dayton is probably the most efficient offensive team we’ve played against all year long. We knew that from watching film, and then you see them in person and they’ve got good players.”