Redshirt sophomore forward Obi Toppin finished the game with 27 points. Photo Courtesy of Keegan Gupta.
Sports Staff Writer
The Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team used a second half surge of dunks and threes to recover from a low-scoring first half and defeat George Washington 76-51 at UD Arena Saturday night to finish 18-0 in Atlantic 10 play on senior night.
FINAL: Dayton 52, VCU 48@DaytonWBB win the A10 Tournament Championship Game behind the strong performances of Kyla Whitehead, Shakeela Fowler and senior @J_Scaife42 in her last game at UD Arena.
— Flyer News Sports (@FlyerNewsSports) March 8, 2020
In an historic day for the Dayton basketball program, which featured ESPN’s College GameDay, an A10 semifinal win for the women’s team, a 25-point win on senior night to finish 18-0 in A10 play and cutting down the nets and raising the A10 regular season trophy, Dayton head coach Anthony Grant said Saturday was a “big way in a lot of different ways.”
“It started early this morning with the excitement on campus, with ESPN’s (College) GameDay in town,” Grant said. “And to see the recognition for our program, for the university, for the community, for Flyer Nation to be the epicenter of college basketball today, is special.”
Before the game, graduate forward Ryan Mikesell and senior guard Trey Landers were recognized alongside their families and given framed jerseys in the classic Dayton red and blue.
— Dayton Basketball (@DaytonMBB) March 8, 2020
“And then to be able to go from that to senior night and the emotional for our seniors, and being able to refocus and go out and compete and play the game today… it was a challenge for our guys to stay the course, but I think that’s been the beauty of this team all year, they’ve been able to handle the adversity in different ways that have come at them and find a way to persevere, and they did that in a big-time fashion today,” Grant said.
The Flyers got their scoring started with a bang – after a hook shot from the Colonials’ freshman forward Chase Paar – on a lob from redshirt junior guard Rodney Chatman to sophomore forward Obi Toppin that turned into an and-one after a foul by the Colonials. The Flyers went cold over the next couple of minutes, trailing 7-5 at the first media timeout of the first half with 14:59 remaining in the half.
Toppin got the Flyers’ first seven points, but then found junior guard Jalen Crutcher open for three and got the assist as the Flyers grabbed the lead back at 10-7. After a layup by Landers and a three from Colonials’ redshirt senior guard Armel Potter, the Flyers went into the second media timeout of the game with a slim 12-11, with four turnovers on the board at the 11:05 mark.
The Colonials grabbed the lead on a 3-pointer by freshman forward Jamison Battle, and another three from the freshman and layup from Potter gave the Colonials a 19-12 lead, which they held going into the third media timeout with an 11-0 run at the 7:47 mark.
Just before the media timeout, Flyers’ sophomore guard Dwayne Cohill read a Colonials pass perfectly and intercepted it. He sprinted to the other side of the court, where he was fouled attempting a layup. After the media timeout, Cohill sank both free throws to stop the Colonials’ 11-0 run.
Redshirt junior forward Jordy Tshimanga’s block brought back some of the momentum for the Flyers, but a three from sophomore guard Ibi Watson sent a loud roar throughout the home crowd as the Flyers drew back within two, trailing 19-17 with 6:55 remaining in the first half.
After a Colonials turnover, Toppin took a pass in the post, made a half-spin to fake out the defender and drove in for the dunk to tie the game at 19, forcing a timeout by the Colonials with 6:08 remaining in the half.
After the timeout, Watson nailed another 3-pointer, but the Colonials responded with a three of their own to tie the game at 22. Tshimanga added a powerful dunk to give the Flyers a 24-22 lead, which they took into the final media timeout of the half after a shooting foul on Toppin at the 3:30 mark.
Toppin knocked down the pair of free throws, but the Flyers didn’t score after that in the first half as the Colonials’ junior guard Mateo Jack knocked down a 3-pointer from deep to keep the Colonials within one. The Flyers took a 26-25 lead into halftime.
Shooting nearly 15 percent below their season average from the field (37.5 percent compared to the nation-leading percentage of 52.4 for the season), the Flyers looked almost sleepy in the first half as they were held to their second-lowest first half point total of the season (held to just 25 in the Jan. 17 game against Saint Louis).
Battle got the scoring started for the Colonials in the second half when he got a perfect pass on a backdoor cut to get an easy layup and give his team a 27-26 lead. The teams exchanged baskets over the next couple of minutes before a great save by Landers led to a three from Chatman.
On a long rebound on its way out-of-bounds, Landers saved the ball in the corner by passing it behind his back, right into Crutcher chest, who brought the ball down the court and found a wide open Chatman, who nailed the 3-pointer and forced the Colonials to call a timeout with 15:52 remaining in the second half, the Flyers leading 35-33.
A jumper by Colonials’ freshman guard Jameer Nelson, Jr., was cancelled out by a Toppin layup, but a high lob from Crutcher was slammed in by Toppin, and a Crutcher driving layup brought back the energy that was lacking from the Flyers’ home crowd, forcing the Colonials to call timeout as the Flyers led 41-37 with 12:42 remaining in the game.
The score held the same at the under-12 media timeout, even after a pinball sequence where neither team could capitalize and score, though Landers committed a foul after a ferocious block to enact the media timeout with 11:49 remaining.
After the timeout, Toppin found Crutcher for three with a well-placed pass and Crutcher knocked down the three, which was followed by a driving scoop layup from the junior guard to push the Flyers lead to 46-37 with 10:38 remaining, the Flyers’ 9-0 run forcing the Colonials to call their third timeout.
Crutcher knocked down another three to give the Flyers a 12-point lead, which was followed by a couple of incredible dunks from Toppin to send the home crowd into absolute madness.
Taking a pass down low in the post, Toppin backed down and slammed home a dunk over the Colonials’ Battle, and followed that with a 360 dunk after knocking the ball loose, forcing the Colonials to call their last timeout of the game with the Flyers holding a 53-37 lead with 8:39 remaining in the game.
The Colonials briefly halted the Flyers’ 16-0 run, but the next possession, Toppin got free again and put home a dunk contest-like slam when he went between-the-legs to send the decibel level through the roof at UD Arena. When Chatman drew a charge on the Colonials’ next possession, the home crowd exploded with cheers as the Flyers went into the under-8 media timeout leading 55-39 with 7:31 remaining.
After the timeout, Watson knocked down another three to improve to 3-5 from 3-point range to push the Flyers’ lead to 58-39 with 7:15 remaining in the game. Toppin added another dunk and was fouled on the play. Though he missed the free throw, the home crowd showed their love for the likely lottery pick with resounding “MVP” chants as the Flyers led by 19 points.
Battle knocked down another three (finished with 4 made threes), but a Crutcher layup and made free throw by graduate forward Ryan Mikesell gave the Flyers a 63-44 lead heading into the final media timeout with 3:59 remaining in the game.
Crutcher knocked down a three with 3:25 remaining to push the Flyers’ lead to 66-44. Toppin knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:59 remaining to push the lead to 68-44 as M-V-P chants cascaded from the 13,407 fans in attendance. He was subbed out to resounding chants of “Obi.”
On an almost-perfect play for senior night, Landers attempted a pass to Mikesell, which was tipped by a Colonials defender and guided along by Tshimanga to find a wide-open Mikesell, who drilled the three on his final shot at UD Arena to give the Flyers a 71-44 lead with 2:25 remaining.
You know how you have to hit the last shot before you leave the gym. Ryan Mikesell just did that. His last shot at UD Arena. pic.twitter.com/AUsR74qbDC
— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) March 8, 2020
In Saturday night’s game, Landers grabbed 10 rebounds, and although Mikesell didn’t break the statsheet, Grant said it was great to see Mikesell make his last shot and that Mikesell and Landers have been special players during their careers at Dayton.
“It means so much to them,” Grant said. “To represent the University of Dayton, and I think about some of the guys that came before them and some of what they saw before they ever came to the University of Dayton. The environment here at UD Arena, some of the players that came before them that inspired them and made them want to put that uniform on. It’s special.”
Mikesell and Landers were subbed out for the last time at UD Arena at the 1:44 mark, and even as play continued, chants of “Ry-an Mike-sell” and “Tre-y Land-ers” roared through the crowd.
“I don’t know how to put it into any other words,” Grant said. “Other than, when you go through this experience of playing at Dayton and you know you’re in your last game here at UD Arena, it’s surreal. (I’m) just really happy for (Mikesell and Landers), that they were able to go out on a winning note.”
After a 3-pointer from redshirt junior guard Jhery Matos, the chants continued with “Thank you, seniors.” A dunk from Tshimanga closed the scoring for the Flyers, who finished senior night with a 76-51 win over the Colonials to improve to 29-2 (18-0 A10) and finish a perfect 17-0 at UD Arena.
“This is a heck of a feeling,” Grant said. “To be able to go through an 18-game schedule in this league and be able to come out champions and do it in the fashion that these guys did. My hats off to everyone, from our players to our coaches to our staff… managers, to everybody, just a heck of a job.”
After some brief speeches from Landers and Mikesell, the Flyers finally celebrated their A10 regular season title by lifting the trophy and cutting down the nets in a storybook conclusion for a day that will go down in history at the University of Dayton.
Your Dayton Flyers are 2020 Atlantic 10 Champions. pic.twitter.com/CblLqpRmIj
— Dayton Basketball (@DaytonMBB) March 8, 2020
The Flyers now shift focus to the A10 Tournament – which takes place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, March 11-15 – where Grant said the Flyers have the “chance to win another championship.” Being the No. 1 seed, the Flyers have earned a double bye and will start the tournament in Friday’s quarterfinal game, but Grant said the Flyers are “only guaranteed one game.”