Game No. 33 recap: VCU 71, Dayton 65

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VCU celebrates as Dayton leaves the court. David Jablonski/Staff


Sunday was not exactly the fun day I thought it would be. Crazy, long, hard, shocking, those words might better describe it.

The Flyers lost 71-65 to VCU in the A-10 final and then lost again when the NCAA handed them a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament and a date with Boise State in the First Four in Dayton.

In the next few days, this will be spinned as a good thing as the team looks at the bright side: a tournament game on a court where they haven’t lost in more than a year and potential games just down the road in Columbus against teams that aren’t unbeatable (teams that aren’t Kentucky). That’s all true. The downside is despite all the Flyers did this season, it was the very last at-large team selected.

Obviously, the losses to Duquesne and La Salle hurt, and Texas A&M falling out of the tournament picture in recent days didn’t help. Still, Dayton won 25 games, had an RPI under 30, beat a No. 7 seed (VCU) on the road and finished second in the regular season and in the conference tournament. It’s hard to believe that’s only barely a resume of an NCAA tournament team.

Anyway, back to Sunday, and five things to take from the loss to VCU.


 

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VCU celebrates. David Jablonski/Staff

1. VCU deserved this.

The Rams won four games in four days, beating three teams in a row in the final three it had lost two a few weeks ago.

From my game story:

Briante Weber, the fallen leader of Virginia Commonwealth, stood in the middle of the court crying tears of joys as he leaned on his crutches. His teammates found him and embraced him. A team on the cusp of an Atlantic 10 championship two years in a row finally ascended the ladders Sunday at the Barclays Center and cut down the net.

Walking past Weber and the jubilant Rams, as confetti rained, the Dayton Flyers showed little emotion. They wore blank faces with a touch of disappointment.

Bridesmaids again, just as they were in the regular season, the Flyers still had many reasons to be proud despite a 71-65 loss in a tension-filled tournament final.

“We’ve accomplished a lot,” Dayton senior Jordan Sibert said. “People didn’t think we would get this far. They doubted us as soon as we lost our players.

“I’m extremely proud of these guys. I know we’re all frustrated about the loss. Everyone wants to win. We never gave up and I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything.”


 

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Scoochie Smith. David Jablonski/Staff

2. Poor shooting doomed the Flyers.

Dayton played well in almost every area: only 10 turnovers, 11 steals, 21 of 27 at the free-throw line.

But the Flyers made 2 of 10 3-pointers Sunday and 4 of 23 3-pointers in their last two games in Brooklyn. Maybe they had tired legs. Maybe they didn’t like the rims and nets.

“I thought we played extremely hard,” Miller said. “I thought we battled for three days. You know, I’m not sure what it’s a tribute to, but we are a pretty good shooting team. And I thought we had some open shots that if they just go in a little bit, the game could have been different, but it wasn’t the case.”VCU didn’t have that problem. It lit up the baskets on four straight days.


 

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Jordan Sibert guards an in-bounds pass. David Jablonski/Staff

3. Loss could pay dividends next season.

VCU won the title on its third try. It lost close title games the last two seasons. Dayton still hasn’t won one since 2003, but it will have the pieces to contend in what should be an even stronger league in 2015-16.

“We want to make this a habit,” said guard Scoochie Smith of the team’s tournament run.

Dayton coach Archie Miller said it hurts, but he told the players after the game, “if you had told me at the beginning of the season you’ll play for the regular season title and the conference championship title, would you take it? Yeah, absolutely. We were in those positions.

“Today and last week’s loss against La Salle are the building blocks to getting through the wall, so to speak, to win the championship of this league. That’s what we want to do. That’s why these guys come here.


 

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The scene on Sunday. David Jablonski/Staff

4. Sunday was close to being an utter disaster.

Dayton didn’t know it at the time, but it would not have made the tournament if UConn had beaten SMU in the AAC final Sunday afternoon. That’s how close the Flyers were to missing the field. Sunday’s postgame gathering in Yonkers would have been the worst party ever.

Tom Archdeacon covered that angle last night:

 No one expected the Flyers would end up in the First Four – mostly because they deserved a better seed, but also because it doesn’t seem like the fairest situation to put a team in its home arena.

“I’m not the bracket expert, but if you studied all the bracketologists around the world, most people had us from a 6 or 7 to a 10,” said Miller.

“They (the Selection Committee) saw something when they looked at us that bothered them. And then you started to think about the what ifs. Without the championship game appearance or a win against Rhode Island ( in the A-10 semifinal) there’s a good chance we might not have been in the tournament.”

That thought ate at a few of the Flyers: “We’re all surprised we’re one of the last four in,” said forward Kendall Pollard. “We’re definitely going to go into the tournament with a chip on our shoulder.”


 

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Dyshawn Pierre. David Jablonski/Staff

5. Boise State is tough but beatable.

The Broncos have never won an NCAA tournament game in six tries. They lost to La Salle in the First Four two years ago. They play what is largely a seven-man rotation, like the Flyers, but do have other players on the bench they can use if needed, unlike the Flyers, who have yet to turn to their trio of walk-ons for any meaningful time.

The general consensus is that Boise State was wronged by the committee as much as Dayton for having to travel across the country to play a team on its home court in the big dance.

From the AP:

The NCAA Tournament will have a true home team for the first time in 28 years.

The Flyers were assigned to the First Four on their home floor Thursday night, matched against Boise State. The NCAA Tournament committee decided that’s where Dayton belonged even if it means giving the Flyers a big advantage.

“Well, I think our travel’s going to be a little harder than theirs,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “You get to the NCAA Tournament, you’re going to play somebody really good. That’s what we’re going to do. Now we’ve got to play a road game, too.”


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