By HAL McCOY
A long and mostly disappointing University of Dayton basketball season came to a crashing conclusion Thursday afternoon in the nation’s capital.
The Flyers, though, did not end their season without a scrappy fight against Virginia Commonwealth in their first game (and last) of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
It was one-and-done for the Flyers, but they left some bruises on VCU, which gets the honor Friday of playing No. 1 seed Rhode Island.
UD trailed closely most of the game, then put on a late surge to take a five-point lead with 3:13 left in the game.
Then they reverted to the type of play that earned them 17 losses this season. They made a bundle of mistakes that led to a 10-0 VCU breakaway and the Rams recorded a 77-72 victory.
Ironically, the game involved the two teams that were seeded No. 1 (Dayton) and No. 2 (VCU) in the previous two A-10 tournaments. This game, though, was a match-up of No. 8 seeded VCU and No. 9 seeded Dayton.
The game, though, resembled a 1-2 skirmish, a fierce battle of wills that got chippie at times.
The Flyers did nearly everything coach Anthony Grant desired. Nearly.
—They put the clamps to VCU’s Justin Tillman, who scored 26 and 37 points against them in two regular season games. He scored only three in the first half, but was significant in what he did down the stretch, scoring 12 in the second half.
—They pounded the ball inside to Josh Cunningham, the ‘Rim Rat,’ and he scored 17 points and hauled in 11 rebounds. Trey Landers scored 19 and grabbed 10 rebounds, giving the Flyers two players with double-doubles.
—The Flyers entered the game averaging the most turnovers in the A10 against the team that forced the most turnovers. But they committed only three in the first half and 10 for the game. But three at the end cost them the game.
—UD had a room full of open three looks, uncontested three, but couldn’t hit many and went 5 for 21. Jalen Crutcher was 1 for 7 and Jordan Davis was 2 for 7.
VCU led most of the game with the Flyers hanging close most of the way, trailing by no more than nine.
They Flyers were down by seven, 53-46 with 12 ½ minutes left and then staged an 8-0 run the put them up 58-57 with 7:45.
The game went back-and-forth from there until it was 63-all with 5 ½ left. In the next two-and-a-half minutes the Flyers went on a 7-2 streak to build a 70-65 lead with only 3:13 left.
Then came the disintegration.
De’riante Jenkins buried a three to cut the lead to two. The next two times down the floor the Flyers couldn’t get off a shot and were tagged with shot clock violations.
Isaac Vann drove for a basket after the first violation to tie it.
After the second violation, VCU nearly saw the shot clock expire, but at the last second point guard Jonathan Williams, the league’s leader assist leader, tried to find Tillman under the basket.
When he couldn’t do it, he spun near the hoop and flipped a left handed Hail Mary heave and it banked into the basket for a VCU lead, 72-70, with 50 seconds left.
The Flyers tried to get the ball inside the Cunningham and VCU’s Mike’l Simms stole it with 33 second left. The Flyers fouled Williams and he made 1 of 2 for a 73-70 lead.
Trey Landers drove toward the basket and his wild shot missed at :22, forcing the Flyers to foul and Williams made two with 0:19 seconds left, ending VCU’s 10-0 run that put them in front, 75-70, and the Flyers were history.
While the Flyers held Tillman to five below his average, VCU’s supporting cast covered for him. All five starters hit double figures (Tillman 15, Williams 14, Jenkins 11, Sean Mobley 11 and Vann 10.
And VCU received 16 more off the bench while the Flyers had seven, all seven by Kostas Antetokounmpo.
Dayton’s only senior scholarship player, Darrell Davis scored 14 in his final game and reached the 1,000 career points scored when he hit a three five minutes into the second half.