By HAL McCOY
Sometimes even the unbelievable, the incredulous and the unfathomable don’t work when those adjectives are in your favor.
That’s the way it was Saturday night in Richmond, Va., for the University of Dayton basketball team against Virginia Commonwealth.
The Flyers were down 17 points with 6 1/2 minutes left in the game. Seventeen?
Incredibly, they came all the back, clawing out of the deepest pit imaginable, and tied the game at the buzzer with a 22-5 finishing kick. They actually trailed by 15 with 3:22 left and caught up with a 16-1 finishing explosion.
Alas, they still lost.
VCU regrouped and took out the Flyers in overtime, 88-84.
There were several reasons why the Flyers didn’t win this one, after beating VCU, 106-79 a few weeks ago.
Let us count the ways.
—The Flyers found no way to put a collar on VCU senior Justin Tillman. He set up shop close to the basket — could almost have opened a lemonade stand on the block. He scored a career-high 37 points. He scored the first seven points for VCU in overtime and seven of the eight they needed.
At one point in the game, Tillman scored 14 straight VCU points. For the game he made 17 of 25 shots, most of them from point blank after teammates fed him the ball.
—They Flyers turned the ball over 19 times, several at critical times. And they missed at least eight layups or easy stick backs, the kinds of shots Tillman made all night.
—Once again coach Anthony Grant called upon his starting five to be marathon men. Four of the five starters played 40 or more of the 45 minutes and and Josh Cunningham played 37 of the 45.
The only bench player to see much time was Matej Svoboda with 16 minutes. He made one of five shots, a three-pointer — the only points contributed by the UD bench. Meanwhile, VCU’s bench chipped in 18 points.
Of VCU’s 88 points, exactly half came in the paint, the vast majority by Tillman. Maybe the Flyers were distracted by Tillman’s floppy bleached orange mop of hair. Whatever it was, they couldn’t stop him with a lariat and cement sneakers.
It took a pair of UD freshman to keep the Flyers in the game. Jalen Crutcher scored 21, including a 50-foot three-point at the halftime buzzer from beyond half court. And Jordan Davis scored 19.
Josh Cunningham scored 15, including a basket at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, but he was sub-par for him on the backboard with only five rebounds. Senior Darrell Davis had another off night with only 10 points and seven turnovers.
The Flyers owned a 29-22 midway through the first half and a 37-31 lead late in the half before the Rams finished the half on a 7-3 burst to pull within two at halftime, 40-38.
UD led 49-46 early in the second half when Tillman went off like a cheap firecracker. He scored 14 straight to push VCU in front, 58-54. A bit later, amongst a basketball full of UD turnovers and missed shots, VCU tore off a 14-0 breakaway to construct that 74-57 lead with 6 1/2 minutes left.
And it was still a 15-point lead with 3:22 left when the Rams temporarily forgot how to get the ball to Tillman and the Flyers were ablaze.
Crutcher scored a quick nine and hiss three-point with 12 seconds left pulled the Flyers to within one, 78-77. VCU’s Jonathan Williams made one of two free throws to make it 79-77 with nine seconds left.
Crutcher lobbed a ball from the top of the lane to an open Cunningham at the basket and he dropped it in to tie it an send the game spinning into overtime.
Tillman scored quickly to start the overtime. Crutcher missed a three, Trey Landers missed a layup and Darrell Davis missed a three before Tillman scored again for an 83-79 lead.
Jordan Davis converted a three-point play after a driving layup and the Flyers were within one. Tillman made only one of two free throws and Landers hit a follow-up shot to tie it at 84-all with 45 seconds left. Guess who scored for VCU with 28 seconds left. Yep, Tillman — under the basket to make it 86-84.
Lander missed a desperation three, a short air ball, with four seconds left and Jonathan Williams sealed it with two free throws with three seconds left.
Amazingly, in their previous game, the Rams owned a 65-53 lead over Richmond with eight minutes to go and lost. This time they had the 17-point lead with 6 1/2 to go and nearly lost again. Nearly.
The Flyers dropped to 11-13 overall and 5-and-7 in the Atlantic 10 while VCU is 15-10 and 7-5.