CHICAGO — Sister Jean, the Loyola Chicago fan who rose to fame during the program’s Final Four run in 2018, delivered the most impressive performance Friday at Gentile Arena. She’s 103 years old. She still goes to every home game. She just published a book, “Wake Up With Purpose!: What I’ve Learned in My First Hundred Years.”
Sister Jean is an inspiring figure, and she tried to rally the Ramblers before their game with the Dayton Flyers with a pregame speech on the court over the public address system.
“We recently played (Dayton) on their home court,” Sister Jean said. “Yes, they won by a few points. So fans, now it is our turn. We want to claim the big W. You can do that because your voices are getting louder, and the Ramblers are depending on you. May both teams play with sportsmanship. Maybe there be no injuries on either team. May the referees call the game with equity. And may our teams get the rebounds and convert them to points. As we get closer to the end of the game, as the final buzzer sounds, may the scoreboard indicate a great big W for the Ramblers. Amen. God bless us. And go Ramblers.”
Sister Jean’s words were not enough for Loyola on Friday. Dayton won 65-49 and led from start to finish in a game that did not mirror the first matchup between the Flyers and Ramblers on Jan. 31 at UD Arena.
Dayton climbed out of an eight-point hole in the second half in the first game and then blew a six-point lead in the final minute before winning 85-81 in overtime. There was no drama this time. Dayton led 28-20 at halftime, pushed the lead to double digits with a 5-0 run to start the second half and then coasted to a victory.
Neither team shot the ball well from 3-point range. Dayton made 4 of 18 (22.2%), its worst number in 14 A-10 games. Loyola made 5 of 24 (20.8%), its worst number on its home court this season. In the first game against Dayton, it made 13 of 25 (52%), its best number away from home this season.
“It was a big emphasis,” Holmes said. “Play good defense. Don’t let them get off easy 3s. We did a good job of that.”
Dayton (18-9, 10-4) has now won three games in a row and five of its last six games. Even a victory against a last-place team is progress because the Flyers lost to another team near the bottom of the standings, 13th-place Rhode Island, three weeks earlier on the road.
Dayton appears to be hitting its stride with four games left in the regular season and then the winner-takes-all — all being a NCAA tournament berth — Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
“We’re rolling,” Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II said. “We had a lot of people who did not believe in us, and we want them to continue to not believe in us. We’re going to keep rolling regardless. For the ones who are sticking around through our ups and downs, we really appreciate you guys, and we thank you.”
Holmes led Dayton with 20 points. It’s the second time he has scored 20 or more points in the last 10 games after a seven-game stretch in which he hit it every time. Toumani Camara added 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
The two Dayton big men almost outscored Loyola Chicago by themselves for most of the game. The Ramblers had a 38-36 edge over Holmes and Camara with five minutes to play.
“That’s something we’re capable of doing,” Camara said, “and it’s something that we need to be more consistent about.”
Holmes scored four points on 1-of-5 shooting in Dayton’s first game against Loyola.
“We take what the defense gives us,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “They started the game early with the double teams inside. Toumani and Deuce did a really good job of moving the ball, and we were able to get the ball to the other side of the floor. We got open looks. We got second passes to the post. We were able to generate good offense. In the second half, because of what we did in the first half, they kind of backed away from some of that pressure, and that allowed Deuce and Toumani to have opportunities. Our guards did a really good job of getting those guys the ball in great positions.”
Dayton completed a regular-season sweep of A-10 newcomer Loyola (9-17, 3-11), which was picked to finish fourth behind Dayton, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth in the preseason poll and has languished in last place all season.
Loyola celebrates its basketball history throughout the Gentile Center. One trophy case pays tribute to its 1963 NCAA championship team. Another honors the 2018 Final Four team. Blown-up photos of both teams adorn walls in the concourse.
Loyola entered the league after earning back-to-back NCAA tournament berths in the Missouri Valley Conference. It will have to win the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., next month to get there again. That’s also the case for Dayton.
First, there’s the matter of the regular-season championship. Dayton trails first-place Virginia Commonwealth (19-7, 10-3) by a half game. It’s a half game in front of Saint Louis (17-9, 9-4) and Fordham (21-5, 9-4).
Dayton closes the regular season with a game on the road at Massachusetts on Wednesday and then home games against George Mason and La Salle and finally a road game at Saint Louis.
The Flyers won their second straight road game Friday after three straight road losses, but the large contingent of UD graduates who live in the Chicago area made it seem like a home game at times. It was the same story in December when Dayton beat Wyoming 66-49 at the United Center. Chants of “Let’s go Flyers!” rang out at the Gentile Center several times in the second half.
Chicago natives Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis, who played for four NCAA tournament teams at Dayton, were among the fans in the crowd. They sat in the second row behind the UD bench.
“It was great to see so many Flyer fans,” Grant said. “Chicago has always been a great spot for us.”
Dayton won the game without its full roster. Guard R.J. Blakney did not travel with the team to Chicago. He has not played in four of the last seven games. Grant said after the game Blakney is “going through some personal stuff, but he should be fine.”
Asked if Blakney was injured, Grant said, “It’s a combination of things.”
Dayton at Massachusetts, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290, 95.7
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