By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
In a game that lived up to the high stakes its result carried, the Dayton men’s basketball team clinched a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title, a three-way tie with VCU and St. Bonaventure, and the No. 1 seed in this week’s A-10 Tournament, with a thrilling 68-67 overtime win over VCU Saturday night at UD Arena. The Flyers (24-6, 14-4 Atlantic 10) won the top seed through a head-to-head tiebreaker.
On a senior night when program veterans Dyshawn Pierre and Bobby Wehrli were honored before the game, it was junior guard Scoochie Smith who scored a career-high 29 points for the Flyers to lead all scorers. He also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists, in addition to hitting a game-tying layup with 11 seconds left in regulation that sent the game into overtime.
VCU came out of the gates red hot, taking a 9-0 lead less than two minutes into the game on three consecutive 3-point shots. The Rams led 11-2 with 15:12 to go in the first half, but that would end up being their largest lead of the game.
Dayton chipped away at the early deficit, eventually tying it up at 19 with 7:48 to go in the half. The Flyers took as big as a five-point lead just a couple of minutes later, but VCU made another run and took a 28-26 halftime lead.
“Give credit to VCU,” Dayton head coach Archie Miller said after the game. “In preparing for them, not only are they an NCAA Tournament team, they’re also regular season conference champions. In a battle like that, you get a chance to see what you’re made of, and they’re really good.”
Neither team led by more than five points in the whole second half, and the lone five-point lead came off the very first score of the half, a VCU 3-pointer by Melvin Johnson with 18:36 to go.
Johnson finished with a team-high 16 points, but shot just 6-of-23 from the field, as he was pressured all night by UD junior guard Kyle Davis.
Both junior forward Kendall Pollard and Pierre fouled out late in the game for the Flyers.
“That hurt [watching from the bench],” Pierre said. “I’m not happy that I fouled out, but at the end of the day we won the game, and that’s all that matters.”
Davis was involved in two of the most integral plays of the game in the last 20 seconds of overtime.
With the Flyers down one, 67-66, Davis took a pass from Smith and streaked to the basket, finishing an acrobatic layup among multiple VCU defenders with 16 seconds to go to give UD a one-point lead of its own. It would be the last score of the game, but that doesn’t mean the final 16 seconds were without drama.
VCU turned the ball over with eight seconds left off an errant pass from JeQuan Lewis to Mo Alie-Cox.
All Dayton needed to do was inbound the ball and make its free throws to seal at least another period of overtime, if not a victory.
However, Davis threw his inbounds pass away to VCU’s Doug Brooks, who had to save the ball back in bounds before falling out. Brooks found teammate Justin Tillman under the basket, but Davis stayed with the play and stripped the ball from Tillman, drawing a foul as he dribbled back up the court.
“It was a bad pass on me, I had a timeout [and] should have called it,” Davis said after the game. “But I passed the ball anyway, and my instincts told me to make a hard play on the ball. [Brooks] passed it back in, and I lucked [out] and got a steal.”
Davis then missed both of his free throws, and VCU called a timeout in its own half court with 1.1 seconds left for a chance to draw up a final play.
Johnson had an open shot to give VCU the win, but he put too much on it and it sailed over the rim as the buzzer sounded on UD’s first home victory since a 76-74 win over Duquesne on Feb. 9.
Dayton will have a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament this week in Brooklyn, New York. The Flyers will face the winner of Thursday’s Fordham vs. Richmond game on Friday at noon.
“It feels great [to win a share of the conference title],” Davis said. “We worked hard this year. We’re going to continue to work hard. We still have the A-10 and hopefully the NCAA [tournaments], so we’ve still got a lot more basketball to play.”
Follow @FlyerNewsSports for live updates this week from the A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn.