BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech fans bounce around to the tune of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” before every home game, whether they’re at Lane Stadium for a football game or Cassell Coliseum for a basketball game.
The song includes the lyrics, “Exit light. Enter night.”
In some ways, those four words describe where the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team is right now. These are dark days for a team that started the season in the top 25, has never been healthy, finished last in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, has not won a game outside UD Arena and suffered its most-lopsided loss in seven years Wednesday: 77-49 at Virginia Tech.
Metallica’s Sandman says, “Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight,” but judging by the reactions on social media, Dayton fans want to go to sleep and wake up in March when maybe hope will rise again. Little has gone right in November or December. As poorly as Dayton played in the three games in the Bahamas, it had a chance to win each game. That wasn’t the case Wednesday.
“They just played harder than us,” Dayton guard Koby Brea said. “They brought a level of physicality to the game that we just weren’t able to match. It kind of overwhelmed us a little bit.”
“I think they were better than us today,” Dayton forward Toumani Camara said. “Defensively, we didn’t show our full potential in using our length for deflections, something we’re supposed to do on a daily basis. That’s part of our identity, and we didn’t show that. Offensively, I think we got in our own way too much and tried to do stuff on our own instead of trusting the process.”
Dayton (5-5) lost to a Virginia Tech team (9-1) that just beat the preseason No. 1 team, North Carolina on the same court, three days earlier.
Dayton remained winless in Blacksburg. Its record is now 0-6 at Cassell Coliseum. This was its first game at the arena since 2000 when Virginia Tech was a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Dayton also has lost all seven of its true road games in non-conference play over the last six seasons.
All of that was a sign this probably wouldn’t be a good night for Dayton. Still, few fans would have expected the most-lopsided loss of coach Anthony Grant’s six seasons, the worst loss for UD since a 90-61 defeat against Xavier at the Advocare Invitational in 2015.
Not even some major changes to the rotation helped. Grant brought Kaleb Washington and Richard Amaefule off the bench in the first 10 minutes. Washington had not played meaningful minutes all season, while Amaefule got a small taste of action in a competitive game at UNLV.
Washington had been sidelined at first by a suspension and then by an injury. Amaefule has battled injuries throughout his two seasons at Dayton. Neither saw action Saturday in an 80-74 victory against Southeastern Louisiana, but Grant gave them a chance in this one.
Washington played just under 16 minutes, and Amaefule played just under 11. Washington had three points and one rebound. Amaefule missed both of his shot attempts and didn’t score or grab a rebound.
“It was good to see some guys come off the bench and play with energy and play with effort when given the opportunity,” Grant said. “All I’m looking for right now is opportunities for us to continue to build under the current makeup of our team and continue to try to get better and move forward with these last few games we have in the non-conference to get prepared for the conference play here in late December. The thing that we’re looking to do is learn our team and figure out what we have and who we can count on. A lot of those guys have been injured most of the non-conference. It’s been difficult to get any kind of consistency in terms of practice. Today was an opportunity.”
Dayton lost this game on both ends of the floor. Former Wright State forward Grant Basile scored 20 his 23 points in the first half, many during a 16-0 run that carried the Hokies to a 42-21 halftime lead.
“Grant just had a great look about him,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said. “He had another game in here — I think it was Delaware State — when just seemingly everything he throws in the air is going into basket. He can really shoot the basketball.”
Dayton’s offense had success in the paint early with DaRon Holmes II scoring six of his team-high 13 points in a 12-6 run to start the game, but little success later.
The Flyers still haven’t found the touch beyond the 3-point arc. They made 3 of 15. Through 10 games, Dayton is shooting 27% from 3-point range. Only 16 teams in college basketball have fared worse from long range.
“I think we have to understand offensively who we are,” Grant said. “I thought at some points in the first half, we were attacking the rim and having success. A few times we attacked and didn’t finish. Then they built a little bit of a lead. And sometimes you think all of a sudden, ‘OK, I can get us going. Right?’ I thought we did that a little bit in the first half with some early, early shot clock 3s, which I thought fed them in transition. So sometimes the way you play offense impacts what you do defensively. I thought that’s what happened to us in the first half when they were able to stretch the lead to 20. Give them credit. They made shots. They’ve done that all year. They’re a top-20 offensive team in the country. They run great stuff. They’re really well coached.”
Virginia Tech lost at Dayton last season and lost to the Flyers in the Maui Invitational in 2019. This time, they ran into a Dayton team still trying to figure things out without starting guards Malachi Smith and Kobe Elvis. Both remained sidelined by injuries. They’re still using crutches to get around, a sign they won’t be available anytime soon.
“That’s a good basketball team,” Young said. “They’re a little short-handed right now with the absence of two very good players. That is difficult for anyone.”
UNC Asheville at Dayton, 2 p.m., USA Network; 1290, 95.7