Trey Landers wore a colorful pair of shoes to practice Monday. They stood out so much reporters asked about them.
“There’s a funny story behind these shoes,” the Dayton Flyers sophomore guard said.
Landers was wearing a pair of “Doernbecher” Nike Kyrie 2 shoes. He’s had them all season and has worn them in games. They were designed by Andy Grass, a former patient at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Oregon. He created the shoes to honor the doctors, nurses, friends and family members who helped him recover from a serious injury. The sides of the shoes bear special messages: “Trust God,” and “Love Mom.”
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The shoes could work for the entire team at this moment. The Flyers need all the inspiration they can get this week. The best of Dayton teams have had trouble winning in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and this is not the best of Dayton teams.
The Flyers (14-16) have to win four games in four days at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., to extend the school’s streak of 11 straight winning seasons. A 3-1 record in the tournament would get Dayton to .500 and at least let it avoid the disappointment of suffering the first losing season since a 14-17 finish in 2005-06.
Considering the quarterfinal opponent would be No. 1 seed Rhode Island, most fans might be happy to see No. 9 seed Dayton win just one game. That would mean beating No. 8 seed Virginia Commonwealth (17-14) at noon Thursday. The teams split the regular-season series. Dayton won 106-79 on Jan. 12 at UD Arena. VCU won 88-84 in overtime on Feb. 10 at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va.
There are two big challenges for Dayton: stopping VCU’s star forward, Justin Tillman, and limiting turnovers.
“Tillman has been a load for us all season,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “In the two games we’ve played, he had really good games. We’ve got to do a better job defensively on him. And No. 2, with the way they play from a defensive standpoint — they press, they get after you and they’re very active — we’ve got to be able to take care of the basketball and not give them easy baskets going the other way.”
Tillman had 26 points in the first game against Dayton and a career-high 37 points in the second game. He made 27 of 41 field goals in the two games.
“Obviously, he’s the big focus for us,” Landers said. “We just have to make him earn everything.”
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Dayton played its best game of the season in the first game, scoring a school-record 66 points in the first half and setting another school record with 17 made 3-pointers in the game. The Flyers committed 11 turnovers.
It was a different story in the second game. Dayton shot well from 3-point range again (14 of 35, 40 percent) but committed 19 turnovers.
It’s hard to predict if Dayton will play more like the team that finished 7-2 at home in A-10 play or the team that was 1-8 in road games. On a neutral court, in a NBA arena, which only Grant has visited as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching staff, Dayton will have to forget its recent road woes.
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If there’s one thing different about the third Dayton-VCU game, it will be the presence of Dayton freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo. He missed the first matchup because he was sick, and then Grant chose not to play him in the second game.
Antetokounmpo has shown more consistency in recent weeks and scored a career-high 14 points Saturday in an 88-78 victory against George Washington.
“We’re going to need everybody,” Grant said. “Obviously, Kostas will have an opportunity, as will all of our guys.”