Flyers upset by Rams 66-60 in Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals

Redshirt senior guard Jenna Giacone (#12, center) led the Flyers’ scoring with 16 points, but her scoring was not enough to over come Dayton’s turnovers and poor free throw shooting in a 66-60 upset loss to VCU. Photo courtesy of Christian Cubacub, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

In a rematch of last year’s Atlantic 10 tournament final, the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team fell to VCU 66-60 Saturday afternoon at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va.

Both teams got off to a slow start offensively. After a rare three point attempt was sunk by Flyers junior forward Kyla Whitehead, the Flyers missed 8 of their next 9 shots, but the Rams started just 1-6 on field goals, so the Flyers took a 5-2 lead into the media timeout with 4:36 left in the first quarter.

The Flyers would extend their ice cold stretch to 10 straight missed field goals and seven minutes without scoring, but a buzzer-beater by redshirt senior guard Jenna Giacone gave the Flyers a 10-6 lead after the first quarter. In the opening frame, the Flyers finished just 4-16 on field goals, but the Rams were even worse, starting 2-12. 

By making 2 of their first 3 field goals of the second quarter, the Flyers forced the Rams to call timeout with the lead now up to 16-10, the largest of the game for the Flyers, with 7:36 remaining in the quarter.

But the Rams responded to the Flyers’ push, going on a 12-2 run over two minutes – making five straight field goals – to take a 24-21 lead and force Dayton to call timeout with 4:24 left in the second quarter.

The Rams’ run would expand to 18-2, forcing another Flyers timeout with the deficit now up to 30-21 Rams with 1:13 left in the half. A three from redshirt senior guard Araion Bradshaw followed by a layup by Giacone finally stopped the bleeding, but the Rams made a last-second layup to take a 32-26 lead into halftime on a massive wave of momentum with 26 points in the second quarter.

“You hold a team to six points, and then you give up 26 points, that not our defense,” Flyers head coach Shauna Green said after the game. “And it hasn’t been the core of what we do, and that’s the game right there, because we were good throughout the rest.”

With 9 turnovers and shooting 34 percent from the field, the Flyers’ first half needed improvement. Whitehead led the team with 7 points and 3 assists, and the other four starters combined for 18 points, with just one point coming from the Flyers’ normally reliable bench.

“We dug ourselves into a hole going into halftime,” Giacone said. “And we just struggled to get back out of it for the second half.”

The start of the second half was a big change for the Flyers, who jumped out with a 9-1 run to take the lead briefly, but the Rams fought back, and the game went back-and-forth for the next minute. Both teams exchanged threes, and the Rams called timeout after making a three to take a 39-37 timeout into the third quarter media timeout with 5:43 left in the quarter.

After the Rams stretched the lead back up to six, the key scoring of Giacone kept the Flyers in the game, as a three cut the deficit in half. The Flyers had plenty of chances at the free throw line to tie the game (and with more makes, take the lead), but finished the third quarter 6-13 for the game from the line, and trailed 43-42 heading into the fourth quarter. 

The fourth quarter became a see-saw game, with the teams continuing to exchange the lead back-and-forth, and the 15th lead change of the game gave VCU a 49-48 lead heading into the final media timeout with 4:50 left in the game. 

But the Flyers went the next four minutes without scoring, and were forced to call a timeout with 2:24 remaining, down 52-48. A layup by freshman center Tenin Magassa finally ended the Flyers drought, and now the Rams called a timeout with 1:07 left, leading 52-50. 

Down the final stretch, the Flyers were unable to do anything on offense, missing seven of their final eight field goal attempts, and taking too much time on their final possession.

With possession of the ball with 25 seconds left in the game down by four, the Flyers ran the clock down to 5 seconds while trying to find a shot, and a three point attempt from Giacone fell short.

“We’re two defensive teams going at it,” Giacone said. “We were obviously trusting the play call, trying to get our play to work, get a shot open, but they took it away. (VCU) forced us to take a contested shot that wasn’t ideal, so kudos to them.”

Green said the game did not come down to that one shot, though, as her team missed “a lot of open shots.”

“The last possession, we ran a play, they had good defense and we took too long to try to attack the basket,” Green said. “But (the game) didn’t come down to that last play, it came down to the plays before that. And really, the second quarter is what killed us.”

The Rams made two more free throws, and came away with a 66-60 win over the Flyers. Falling to 14-3 in the A10 semifinals, the Flyers’ chance at the NCAA Tournament is likely gone, but an NIT berth is still a possibility.

“It’s obviously not how we wanted the season to end,” redshirt senior guard Erin Whalen said. “We’ll hopefully get into postseason play somewhere, we just have a really good group, so it’s just really disappointing.”

However, Green said postseason play is the least thing on anybody’s mind right now.

“We’ll get home, see what happens on (Selection) Monday, and kind of take it from there one day at a time.”

By the game’s conclusion, the Flyers shot 6-13 from the free throw line and turned the ball over 15 times. The Flyers got most of their scoring from Giacone — 16 points — but got just five points off the bench (all from Magassa) and were unable to get a shot to fall late, and they fall short of getting back to the A10 championship game, which they won over VCU 52-48 last year. 

While the team fell short, Green said this team has been a special group of players to coach, especially after the tough challenges faced this year through a pair of multi-week stoppages.

“This is a special group to me,” Green said with tears in her eyes. “These seniors are — just special. And we’re gonna miss them, I’d love for them to come back, but we’ll have those discussions later. But, it’s just a group that I really love and I really care about and I’m really proud of them.”

Giacone said she’s put deciding on whether to use the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 “on the back burner while worrying about this season,” but it’s something she will talk to family and coaches about after the season.

According to David Jablonski of Dayton Daily News, Whalen would also think about coming back next year.

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