For Dayton Flyers, it's 'do or die' in Atlantic 10 tournament

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Mikesell: Dayton on rise entering postseason

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Flyers have to win three games in three days to secure NCAA bid

Rudy Flyer beat everyone from Dayton to the Barclays Center. The Dayton Flyers mascot participated in a dunk contest with the other 13 Atlantic 10 mascots — the serious-looking Colonial, the always-flapping Hawk, the muscle-bound Wildcat, the trio of Rams, etc. — with Jimmy Fallon for “The Tonight Show.”

A-10 AWARDS: Toppin makes more history

Rudy did not show off Obi Toppin-like hops but gave great effort and did make his dunk, bouncing off a trampoline before falling onto a padded mat and getting laughs from Fallon and the judges.

While the Saint Louis Billiken won the contest, Rudy was at least a contender, and that’s what Dayton hopes to be in Brooklyn, N.Y., this week. The third-seeded Flyers (21-10) open the tournament in the quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday against No. 6 seed Saint Louis (19-12), No. 11 Richmond (12-19) or No. 14 Fordham (12-19).

For the Flyers who remain from the Archie Miller era — redshirt senior Josh Cunningham, senior walk-on Jack Westerfield, redshirt junior guard Ryan Mikesell and junior Trey Landers — an A-10 tournament championship is one of the big missing pieces from their resume.

“That’s something that was on my bucket list,” Mikesell said Tuesday. “I was able to do it my freshman and sophomore years and obviously last year. This year, that’s our goal as a team. We’re going to go there and try to get those three games and try to punch our ticket. That’s what you dream of.”

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Cunningham: Dayton playing 'excellent basketball' right now

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Crutcher: Duquesne win a confidence booster for Dayton

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Dayton won the A-10 tournament for the first and only time in 2003, beating Rhode Island 74-57, Saint Joseph’s 76-73 and Temple 79-72. The games took place on three straight days at UD Arena.

» A-10 TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: VCU the favorite but UD a contender

Dayton advanced to the championship game the following season with the tournament again being held at UD Arena but lost 58-49 to Xavier. The Flyer returned to the final game in 2011, losing 64-57 to Richmond at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., and in 2015, losing 71-65 to Virginia Commonwealth at the Barclays Center.

The last three A-10 tournaments have frustrated the Flyers and their fans as much as any others. Dayton was the No. 1 seed in 2016 and lost 82-79 to eventual champion Saint Joseph's in the semifinals in Brooklyn.

The tournament moved to Pittsburgh in 2017, and Dayton again couldn't capitalize on its top seed, losing 73-67 to Davidson and Jack Gibbs, who scored 34 points, in the quarterfinals. Last season, Dayton led VCU by five with three minutes to play and was outscored 12-2 the rest of the way, losing 77-72 in Washington, D.C.

Dayton hasn’t won an A-10 tournament game in more than three years. It beat Richmond 69-54 in the quarterfinals on March 11, 2016. Only one player who saw action in that game remains the roster: Mikesell, who missed his only field-goal attempt in four minutes.

“I think it was my first time playing in a NBA arena,” Mikesell said. “I was kind of in shock a little bit, kind of in awe. This year, we’re going to go in there and try to do our thing.”

» IN REVIEW: Best and worst of Dayton’s regular season

While Dayton can hope for a NIT bid if it doesn't win the A-10 tournament — it was listed as a No. 4 seed with a possible matchup against No. 5 seed Xavier in one recent projection — the goal every year for this program is to play in the big dance. No. 1 seed VCU is the only A-10 team in the hunt for an at-large berth. The other 13 teams will pin their hopes on claiming the league's automatic berth.

“We all been talking in the locker room,” Mikesell said. “This is it. It’s do or die. If we want to play in the NCAA tournament, we have to win this tournament, so hopefully motivation shouldn’t be a question or anything like that. We’ll just go in there hungry and wanting a championship.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Dayton vs. TBA in A-10 quarterfinals, 8:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network, AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO

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Dayton's Toppin credits teammates for all-conference honors

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Dayton's Grant: Hard work turned Toppin into All-A-10 selection

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