Flyers women’s basketball fight for 67-62 win over VCU in annual Pink Game

Head coach Shauna Green (center of huddle) instructs her team during a timeout in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

In a game characterized by long scoring droughts for both teams, the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team held onto a narrow 67-62 win over VCU on Sunday at UD Arena.

“My heart rate just went down a little bit, so I can probably talk now,” head coach Shauna Green said after the game. “It was a hard fought, great team win. I thought VCU played great, it was a game we all expected. They were picked (No.) 1 (in preseason A10 poll), we were picked 2, two of the top teams in the league, and you saw a great game.”

Sunday’s game was the Flyers’ annual Pink Game, in tribute to Melissa Fortener, who died after a battle against breast cancer.

The matchup was also a rematch of last year’s A10 Championship Game, which the Flyers won 52-48 at UD Arena on March 8 to clinch a spot in the (eventually-cancelled) NCAA Tournament.

In Sunday’s game, the offenses for both teams came storming out of the gate, with the Rams opening up a 13-11 lead at the first quarter media timeout with 4:58 remaining in the quarter. While the Flyers started 3-3 from deep, the Rams got to the line for 4 free throws, making all 4 to help give them the early lead. 

However, the hot start quickly tapered away, as the Flyers finished the first quarter shooting 3-13 inside the 3-point arch, and trailed VCU 22-15 at the end of one. Four turnovers leading to 6 VCU points and poor shooting around the basket were key reasons for the Flyers’ early deficit.

“(The game) was ups and downs,” Green said. “They made their run early, I didn’t think we started great, and then we picked it up and had an unbelievable second quarter and held them to 11 points.”

After VCU opened the second quarter by extending the lead to 11, Dayton went on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to one, culminating in a pair of big shots from redshirt senior guard Erin Whalen. 

First, Whalen got room around a screen and knocked down a three, and on the next possession, made a cross over move to lose her defender and side-step another to get in for a layup, forcing a timeout by VCU with 5:02 left in the quarter, the Rams’ lead cut down to just 28-27.

On the other side of the timeout, the Flyers got a stop on the defensive end, and sophomore forward Mariah Perez knocked down a layup to give the Flyers their first lead of the game (tied at 11 with 5:41 remaining in the first quarter). 

Over a five-minute period, Dayton held VCU scoreless, allowing the Flyers to extend their lead to three before VCU finally responded with a three to tie the game again. By halftime, the Flyers had a 35-33 lead thanks to a layup by freshman guard Makira Cook with eight seconds left, and had made 6 of their last 8 field goals heading into the break.

Whalen led all scorers with 8 points, while Magassa added 7 and 4 rebounds.

Whalen, who finished with 21 points after going 10 straight games without 20-plus points (started the season with 26-, 25-point games), has taken a beating this season, according to Green, who credits her for getting back to high scoring.

“(Whalen) is just an unbelievable player,” Green said. “So if she gets open looks like she did tonight, she’s gonna hit those threes… She got some clean looks tonight, she’s playing with confidence, and I think she’s just letting the game come to her a little bit more.” 

The Flyers also had seven first-half scorers – Whalen and Magassa included – and all eight players had at least one rebound, as the Flyers led that stat battle 21-15 at halftime.

The Flyers picked up where they left off in the first half, as a pair of threes from Whalen and layups by redshirt senior guard Araion Bradshaw, Magassa and junior forward Kyla Whitehead helped extend the Flyers’ lead to 49-41 with 4:47 left in the third quarter. 

With a chance for Dayton to stretch their lead or for VCU to get back into this game, it was a stalemate as both teams went the final 3:40 of the quarter (four minutes for UD) without a made field goal, and the Flyers held a 55-47 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Flyers opened the fourth quarter with a three from Whalen and a pair of layups by fellow redshirt senior guard Jenna Giacone to stretch the lead to 12, but the Rams responded with a 7-0 run, forcing the Flyers to call timeout as their lead had shrunk to 62-57 with 4:12 remaining. 

The same score held until a 3-pointer by VCU senior guard Taya Robinson, and the Flyers’ scoreless run continued. Forced to call a timeout up 62-60 with 1:19 left, the drought had reached seven minutes, and was not ended until a driving layup by Giacone with 33.8 seconds left. 

After that layup, Robinson responded with one of her own with 28.2 seconds left. From there, it was a game of free throws, with Giacone splitting her pair, VCU missing their shots on the other end, and two more from Giacone to put the game away.

The Flyers closed out a 67-62 win, led by Whalen with 21 points and 5 rebounds – though she fouled out with 8.9 seconds left – and Giacone with 14 points and 4 assists. Other contributions came from Bradshaw (5 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds), Magassa (9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks) and Cook (8 points on 3-6 shooting).

“I told (the team) in the locker room, we haven’t had a come-from-behind like this, and had this tight of a game,” Green said. “We’ve only played 13 games. I mean, that’s normally what we would’ve played in the non-conference, so we’re still having guys in these (close-game) situations of learning.

“This game really showed me that we have some toughness to us, we can come back, and then we can hold onto a lead to finish a game.”

With the win, the Flyers improve to 12-1 overall and 11-0 in A10 play, stretching their win streak to 11 games and giving them a firmer grip on the top of the A10 standings. 

Next up, the Flyers host Saint Louis (8-3, 6-3 A10) on Saturday at 2 p.m.

For more sports news like Flyer News on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@FlyerNews & @FlyerNewsSports) and Instagram (@flyernews)