By: Keith Raad – Sports Editor
VCU freshman Terry Larrier nailed four perfect free throw attempts in the final minute to ice Dayton’s chances at the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship in Brooklyn, New York’s Barclay’s Center.
The Flyers found themselves in another shooting slump throughout the game, but stayed in it thanks to free throws. But in the game’s most crucial possession, sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith made an unorthodox mistake.
Down 61-59 with 55 seconds on the clock, Dayton came out of its own timeout with a play drawn up. Working through the first few seconds of the shot clock, Smith and fellow guard and sophomore Kyle Davis dished the ball back and forth.
On the second toss back to Davis, VCU forward Doug Brooks jumped the pass, stole the ball, and finished the play by assisting his point guard JeQuan Lewis in transition. VCU held on to the lead, winning the game 71-65.
“It was a game-changing play a little bit just in terms of getting a two-possession lead,” head coach Archie Miller said. “We had the play called just didn’t execute it.”
Though Smith’s errant pass might have cost Dayton the game, his performance up to that point was memorable. The Bronx native finished by tying a career-high 16 points, adding three assists and grabbing five rebounds. And despite Dayton hitting three jump shots all game, (two 3-pointers and one mid-range jumper by Davis) Smith and the Flyers outscored VCU in the paint. After one series, Smith hit Lewis with a crossover and finished the layup. Walking to the bench after cutting the deficit to one, Smith made a “let’s eat” gesture toward the Flyers crowd behind the bench.
“He’s turned into a terrific player,” Miller said of Smith. “He was by far and away, a lot of these guys had great weekends, but Scooch was really, really responsible for, in a big way, how we had some success.”
But it was all for naught. Dayton’s life at the 3-point line was puzzling on offense and defense. Normally knocking down 36 percent of their threes, the Flyers hit just nine (24 percent) all tournament. Opponents in the regular season hit five 3-pointers per game but managed to hit 26 over the course of three games. The Rams shot a blistering 42, going 10-24 Sunday.
A glimmer of hope came the way of the “small ball seven” during VCU’s inbound play with 7.6 seconds. Ahead by two, VCU senior forward Treveon Graham inbounded the ball to Lewis in the corner in front of the Dayton bench. The Flyers swarmed to try for the steal and managed to knock it out of Lewis’ hands, but the ball hit off of senior guard Jordan Sibert’s leg, and possession stayed with VCU.
The Flyers had to foul VCU while trailing in the final minute. Larrier stood out as the main target for Dayton, but the freshman knocked down big free throws on two separate occasions. Seconds later, Lewis added two more, and the Flyer comeback fell short.
The Flyers fell to 1-4 in A-10 title games, including their second consecutive appearance loss. The Richmond Spiders knocked off Dayton in 2011.