Flyers head coach Anthony Grant (center-left) holds the team’s first tournament trophy since the 2011 Old Spice Classic, won at the same HP Field House in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo via ESPN2 telecast by Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.
Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor
Led by scoring from a variety of players and strong defense throughout, the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team won the ESPN Events Invitational final 63-61 over the Belmont Bruins in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Sunday.
The Flyers were seeking their first tournament win since 2011, when they beat Minnesota 86-70 in the final of the Old Spice Classic (previous name for ESPN Events Invitational) at HP Field House in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
On offense, Dayton started quickly with five made field goals out of seven attempted and took a 10-9 lead with 13:18 left in the first half. Freshman guard Malachi Smith and sophomore forward Toumani Camara both had four points each.
Sophomore forward Mustapha Amzil, who got the shot to bounce right off the rim in the “upset of the year” over No. 4 Kansas, drilled a three out of the media timeout. Those would be the only points before the next media timeout with 11:56 left, the Flyers ahead by four.
The Bruins went almost four minutes without scoring until a three cut the Flyers’ lead to one. Sophomore guard Kobe Elvis knocked down a jumper and then a pair of threes for the Flyers, but the Bruins stayed in the game and trailed just 21-20 with 6:38 left in the first half.
Breaking a nearly three-minute scoreless stretch, the Flyers got another jumper from Elvis before a block by freshman forward DaRon Holmes II led to a three by sophomore guard Koby Brea to give the Flyers a 26-22 lead with 3:42 left in the half. At the under-four media timeout, the Flyers had seven turnovers, but overcame that by shooting 11-18 from the field and 4-7 from three, and out-assisting the Bruins 7-2.
Brea drilled another three to push the Flyers’ run to 8-0. Although the Bruins put an end to the run and the Flyers finished the half on a scoring drought of 2:06, the Flyers still took a 31-27 lead into halftime.
Belmont knocked down three straight shots to start the second half and tied the game at 34, but Dayton redshirt junior guard Elijah Weaver drilled a three, sophomore forward R.J. Blakney followed his own miss with a tip-in and Weaver made another three as the Flyers took a 42-36 lead with 14:22 left in the second half.
The Bruins continued to stay within striking distance, but a jumper by freshman guard Lynn Greer III pushed the Flyers’ lead to 54-45 before the media timeout with 7:39 remaining in the game.
Out of the timeout, Bruins leading scorers Nick Muszynski (16 points) and Ben Sheppard (12 points) got back-to-back baskets to fall to cut the Flyers lead quickly down to five with 6:21 left in the game, forcing a timeout by Dayton head coach Anthony Grant.
The Bruins continued their run, making four straight field goals, and cut the Flyers’ lead to just one, but Camara was fouled and converted the three-point play with a free throw to give the Flyers some breathing room and a little momentum.
Leading 57-53 with 3:43 left in the game, Camara made another layup to stretch the lead to six, but Musznski and Sheppard made layups as the Flyers went scoreless for 2:29 before calling a timeout with 59 seconds left and the score at 59-57 in favor of Dayton.
With little developing on offense after the timeout, the Flyers were forced to call another timeout with eight seconds on the shot clock and 37.6 seconds left in the game.
After the timeout, Holmes II grabbed an offensive rebound after a Brea miss and got a layup to fall to give the Flyers a four-point lead with 31 seconds left. Holmes II finished with 11 points on 5-7 shooting with ten rebounds and six blocks.
Muszynski was fouled with 20.8 seconds left, but missed the first free throw, trimming the Dayton lead to 61-58.
The Flyers inbounded the ball and Smith was fouled with a chance to make it a two-possession game on one-and-one free throws. Smith made both free throws, but Grayson Murphy made a fast-break layup to cut the Flyers’ lead to three with 9.8 seconds left.
With a 63-30 lead, the Flyers got the ball to Camara, who missed the first free throw of a one-and-one. The Flyers then fouled the Bruins with 5.5 seconds left, but still had a foul to give to send the Bruins to the line.
After another foul, Murphy was fouled with 3.9 seconds left, making the first to cut the Flyers’ lead to two. Murphy intentionally missed the second, and the loose ball was grabbed by Smith, who tossed the ball towards the opposite basket as time expired on the Flyers’ 63-61 win over Belmont.
Smith was named Most Valuable Player of the ESPN Events Invitational after averaging 11.3 points, 6.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 33.3 minutes per game in three starts. In the final, the Flyers got scoring from several different players (seven with at least five points) and prevented the Bruins from taking the lead at any point in the second half.
With the win, the Flyers win their first tournament in a decade and improve to 4-3. Next up for the Flyers is a home game against Alabama State on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.