Game No. 28 recap: Dayton 59, VCU 55

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Two Dayton fans brave the VCU student section on Saturday. David Jablonski/Staff


 

The Dayton Flyers: undersized, undermanned, undeterred.

A true story about the True Team: it beat Virginia Commonwealth 59-55 on Saturday (photos here) with six players for the last five minutes and with two of those players playing with four fouls. I didn’t see the walk-ons stretching on the bench, but one of them (Joey Gruden, I assume) was a hand check away from playing in the biggest game of the season.

The Fantastic Flyers, the Dayton Seven, whatever you want to call them, somehow found a way again, beating the odds as well as a VCU team that is not the same team it was from November to late January. Consider a few crazy facts:

* The Flyers were 0-15 against conference ranked opponents on the road in the MCC, Great Midwest and A-10 until they won at Saint Louis on March 5 last season. That victory pretty much stamped their ticket for the big dance. Now the Flyers have won two in a row against conference ranked opponents on the road. VCU was No. 22/24, though will drop out of the poll with two losses last week. Once again, the Flyers (probably) earned a berth in the NCAA tournament with a late-season road win.

* Jordan Sibert led the Flyers in scoring with 19 points (15 in the first half), and he’s not practicing. At all. Not even shooting. He wears a cast on his shooting wrist in the days leading up to the game, coach Archie Miller said. Sibert won’t practice again this year. That seems to be helping more than hindering him at this point.

* Dayton committed only eight turnovers. That’s the best any team has done against VCU since Michigan committed seven turnovers in an NCAA tournament win against VCU in 2013.

Here are five more things to take from Saturday’s game in Richmond:

1. March is here, and the Flyers are ready.

Give Scoochie Smith credit for the quote of the day. The lede of my game story:

Jordan Sibert left the Siegel Center with a bag of ice wrapped around his wrist. Two bags of ice clung to Kendall Pollard’s knees. Darrell Davis walked away with only one iced knee.

Held together by the training staff and coaches and sometimes seemingly by magic — not to mention duct tape, string and whatever else keeps a team like this afloat 28 games into the season — the Dayton Flyers somehow found a way Saturday to play their best basketball at the perfect time. They lack numbers and height, but make up the deficit with a league-leading amount of heart.

How else could you explain a 59-55 victory over No. 22/24 Virginia Commonwealth?

“It’s the right time to play this type of basketball,” sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith said. “We played hard. March starts tomorrow.”

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Scoochie Smith vs. Havoc. David Jablonski/Staff

2. The Flyers are off the bubble, but have not clinched a berth.

Dayton jumped to 28th in the RPI today. It now has a top 20 RPI road win. Both of those facts should get UD into the tournament. If the Flyers lose their last two regular-season games and then fall in their first A-10 tourney game, it could be a different story, but I don’t see that happening.

The lede of my second story last night:

Dayton coach Archie Miller yelled, “Hell yeah, baby!” as he entered the Dayton locker room after a 59-55 victory over Virginia Commonwealth at the Siegel Center.

Where does this victory rank in the Miller era? It’s behind the three NCAA tournament victories but on a par with the win in Saint Louis last season. In other words, it’s near the top of the list.

If Dayton didn’t earn a berth in the NCAA tournament with this victory, it stuck one foot and two arms in the door. On Twitter after the game, a Dayton fan asked ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi what the victory does for the Flyers.

“Is Dayton officially in and off the bubble???” the fan asked.

“Yes,” Lunardi said.

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3. There was a great story in the first row.

I might not have gotten this story if I don’t also shoot photos. I sat down on the baseline in the second half in front of a family of UD fans who had front-row seats.

Dayton fans Jeff Morley and Krissi Straszheim-Morley sat in the front row on the baseline Saturday and held up signs throughout the game. One read, “UD made him.” The other one read, “VCU saved him.”

The signs refer to the Morley’s 7-year-old son Jack. It was his birthday Saturday, and a local company, KPMG, gave Jack and the whole family front-row tickets.

Jeff, a 1999 UD grad, and Krissi, a 2000 grad, met at UD and moved to Richmond in 2007. He’s originally from Eaton. She’s from Warren.

Jack was born in Richmond in 2008. He was diagnosed in December 2014 with a Wilms’ tumor, a rare type of childhood kidney cancer. He had a 2.5-pound tumor removed on Dec. 9 at VCU’s Children’s Hospital and underwent radiation. He’s undergoing chemotherapy until April 24.

Jack had one side of his head painted in UD colors and the other in VCU colors. The signs tell the story. Jack and his family are big fans of both schools for different reasons.

”Hard to root against VCU since they saved his life,” Jeff said.

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Mo Alie-Cox misses in the final seconds. David Jablonski/Staff

4. The Rams had their chances.

Dayton’s defense gets credit for holding VCU to 6-of-25 shooting (24 percent) from long range and 34 percent shooting from the field. However, VCU missed a couple of easy shots down the stretch: one a  dunk by Melvin Johnson with 3:30 to play that would have given VCU its first lead of the second half.

The other big miss came at the end. This is from the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Rams missed two relatively uncontested layups and the dunk after steals. Dayton took the misses and turned them into seven points.

The capper came after the Rams got the ball back trailing by two with less than 30 seconds to play. Treveon Graham missed a long 3-pointer. Mo Alie-Cox grabbed the rebound, but his attempt to bank the ball from in close with 3 seconds left was too strong.

“Just rushed my shot,” said Alie-Cox, who finished with 12 points.

Dayton’s Jordan Sibert put the game away with two free throws.

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Flyers leave the court after win. David Jablonski/Staff

5. A long drought for UD in Richmond ended.

Richmond is a nice place to visit. Last year, I visited the Civil War Museum downtown and ran along the James River Trails. Yesterday I toured the Edgar Allen Poe Museum before the game. It has not been a happy place for the Flyers over the years.

From my third story yesterday:

 Two Dayton fans sat by themselves in the middle of the Virginia Commonwealth student section Saturday.

It’s general admission seating there, so if you arrive early, you can park yourself in a sea of yellow even if you’re wearing red. That’s what these fans did. They even brought a copy of the famed Dayton Daily News “THE University of Dayton” edition to hold up during the game.

The fans, if they’re superstitious at all, might want to grab the same seats when the Flyers return to the Siegel Center next year or in two years. They saw the Flyers beat VCU 59-55.

Dayton lost 74-62 at the Siegel Center two years ago and lost two previous games at VCU in 1984 and 1986. The Flyers are now 2-5 all time against the Rams. Counting games in Richmond against the Richmond Spiders, Dayton had lost seven straight in Richmond since 2004. Dayton is 5-20 all time in the state of Virginia.

Asked if he was surprised to be two victories away from clinching at least a share of the Atlantic 10 title, Dayton coach Archie Miller said, “I don’t know if the word is surprised. I would use the word proud. It’s all about the guys that are here and what they’ve done. They’ve expected it. They’ve worked for it. They’ve handled everything with a lot of maturity. They’ve bought into the chemistry of what we need to do to be successful on both ends. And they’re not afraid.”

 


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