In its last appearance in Fairfax in 2020, Dayton made 3 of 16 3-pointers (18.8) in a 62-55 victory. In 2018, Dayton lost 85-67 at George Mason and made 7 of 26 3-pointers (26.9). Dayton hasn’t shot better than 30% at EagleBank Arena since 2016 when it made 14 of 22 (63.6) in a 98-64 victory.
Despite the shooting struggles Saturday, Dayton still had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Mustapha Amzil, the hero of Dayton’s victory against No. 4 Kansas in November, rebounded a missed free throw with 5 seconds left and then took the ball up court by himself, missing a contested 3-pointer as time expired.
Dayton didn’t plan for Amzil to take the final shot, but when he grabbed the rebound, point guard Malachi Smith was behind him.
“The plan was to get the ball to our point guard and let him make a play,” Dayton guard Koby Brea said.
“I would have liked for the ball to end up in in Malachi’s hands and let him be the guy that facilitated and made the decision,” Grant said. “But we went back and looked at it and they did bring a guy up, and (Amzil) turned away from wherever Malachi was and didn’t see him. It’s a late-clock situation, so it’s kind of a quick decision. We’ve got to push the ball up the floor.”
There was no guarantee Smith would have done better. He and fellow freshman DaRon Holmes II, who have been two of Dayton’s most consistent performers, struggled. Smith scored a team-high 12 points but shot 29.4% (5 of 17), his second-worst shooting performance of the season. He had only three assists after tallying a career-high 12 in a 68-50 victory against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday.
“It happens,” Brea said. “He’s a freshman. I know how it was for me last year. That’s just something that you go through. We’ve got to find different ways to get the ball in the hoop and to facilitate for our teammates, but he’s a hell of a player. His IQ is on a different level. I know he’s going to be perfectly fine.”
Holmes had a similar frustrating night but for a different reasons. He got only three shot attempts and finished with four points after reaching his career high in scoring in the last two games: 18 at Duquesne and 20 against St. Bonaventure.
Holmes wasn’t the only one who couldn’t score inside. Toumani Camara had six points on 3-of-9 shooting. Smith couldn’t get a number of layups to drop. Dayton shot a season-worst 37.1% (13 of 35) from 2-point range. That’s far below its season average of 55.2, the 31st-best number in the country.
“(George Mason) did a really good job of locking that area down,” Dayton guard Kobe Elvis said. “They really made sure we couldn’t get any passes to Deuce (Holmes) down low.”
This was Dayton’s second-worst shooting performance of Grant’s five seasons. Its worst came on Jan. 23, 2021, when it shot 30.9 percent in a 66-43 loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond, Va.
The offense was especially stagnant late in the game. In the last nine minutes, the Flyers made only two field goals: a driving layup by Elvis with 1:24 to play that cut the George Mason lead to 48-46 and a 3-pointer by Kobe Brea with 10 seconds left to cut the lead to 50-49.
Despite all that, the opportunity to win the game was there.
“It was a tough game, and we thought we were going to be able to pull it out,” Brea said. “They did a pretty good job. We could have done a lot better offensively. I feel like defensively we did a hell of a job. We’ve got to leave that one in the past and keep moving forward.”
Fordham at Dayton, 7 p.m., Spectrum News 1, 1290, 95.7