Game No. 20 recap: UMass 66, Dayton 64

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A UMass dunk on Thursday. David Jablonski/Staff

The Flyers have led a charmed life for quite a while now — and mostly because of their own doing. They just seem to have a knack for playing their best in the final minutes.

Prior to Thursday, they were 5-0 this season in games decided by five points or less. Throw in two close games in the NCAA tournament last season, and they had won seven straight tight ballgames.

Until UMass beat UD 66-64 on Thursday (photos here), the last time the Flyers had lost a game like that was in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament when Langston Galloway’s push-off in the final seconds resulted in a 70-67 St. Joseph’s victory.

There’s no doubt the ball did not bounce or roll the Flyers way at key moments last night (or tonight really as I’m writing this at 5 a.m. at the Hartford airport). Dyshawn Pierre didn’t get a roll on an easy layup in the final minute. Scoochie Smith stepped out of bounds with the ball after grabbing a key rebound late in the game. How many 3-pointers did the Flyers just miss? Plenty.

On the other hand, the Flyers had plenty of chances to win the game and made plenty of mistakes to prevent them from doing so. Here are five things to take from the loss.

1. Archie: Flyers weren’t tough enough.

This was a physical game, as physical as I’ve seen this year. You could see it in my photos. You could see it in Kendall Pollard’s brutal pick in the final seconds. Somehow the Flyers were still standing at the end, even though all five starters played 34-38 minutes. They just weren’t standing as victors.

Here’s the lede of my game story:

The Flyers fled Amherst as fast as they could Thursday night — not so much to escape the sting of a 66-64 loss at Massachusetts but to beat the bad weather threatening to delay their charter flight back to Dayton. They moved quickly but still had to stay the night in Springfield because of freezing rain and snow.

Life on the road in the Atlantic 10 has derailed the dreams of many teams. The Flyers have been unbeatable at UD Arena. They’re not so invincible on the road. They lost 77-60 at Davidson last week. They were never really in that game.

In the second half of a tight game, Dayton shot 2 of 12 from 3-point range and 6 of 12 at the free-throw line. They led once and for only eight seconds.

“We had a chance, but we weren’t tough enough,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “We weren’t tough enough from the start to the finish. What I mean by tough, it’s not physical, it’s mental. We had a lot of winning plays that we had opportunities to make. We just didn’t cash in.”

2. Doubt creeping into locker room.

I had to work a Dr. Seuss reference into one of my stories last night since the Flyers stayed Wednesday and Thursday night in Springfield, not far from the memorial to Seuss. These are lines from, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”

You’ll be on your way up!

You’ll be seeing great sights!

You’ll join the high fliers

who soar to high heights.

That perfectly describes this Dayton team, even if they’re Flyers and not Fliers, at least it did for most of the season. Miller saw a change after this loss and hopes it doesn’t last.

“This is the first time in a long time our locker room is looking around and being a little bit depressed,” coach Archie Miller said. “This is a game we prepared for. We didn’t get off to a good start. Some of our shooting woes in the second half from 3 had guys looking at the ground. This is going to be a big deal, the next 48 hours. This isn’t a positive trip home. It’s not going to be a positive 48 hours. It’s going to be a gut check for the guys to get up off the ground one more time and finish off the halfway point (of conference play) better.”

3. Big picture: not the end of the world.

The Flyers (16-4, 6-2) are tied with George Washington and Rhode Island for second place. I doubt anyone catches VCU. It looks to be a step above everyone else.

What this losses does for UD is put pressure on it to pick up a quality road win against an even tougher opponent down the line, be it George Washington next week or VCU later in February. The NCAA selection committee likes those road wins. Dayton had good victories last season at Ole Miss, Georgia Tech and St. Louis.

4. Bucky and Larry were missed.

The Flyers are now 0-1 in games missed by both Larry Hansgen and Bucky Bockhorn in the last 40-something years.

This was believed to be the first game since 1979 without either of them calling the game on WHIO. Hansgen missed this game and will miss Sunday’s after having back surgery last weekend. Bockhorn is not traveling to as many away games this season. Tom Michaels and Brooks Hall called the game in their absence.

5. Dayton can’t overlook Fordham

The Flyers have only two days to get ready for their Super Bowl Sunday showdown with the Rams, and their schedule was upset somewhat by weather Thursday night. Normally, the team is home hours after games (the benefits of charter flights).

With icy weather after this game, it was unsafe to fly, and the team checked back into its hotel in downtown Springfield. They’ll arrive home sometime today.

Fordham has lost by double digits to all its A-10 opponents except Rhode Island. Fordham lost 68-65 at Rhode Island on Jan. 7 and 64-63 on Wednesday.

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