After a bad beat on an Ace Baldwin three back on January 5th, Dayton seemed like a team in distress. Anthony Grant’s words put it into perspective as well. The team just wasn’t playing like they wanted to win. They wanted the minutes. The guys were more individualistic than a team.
Then, it all changed.
Dayton steamrolled George Washington, won convincingly against a tough Saint Louis team, dominated Duquesne on the road, and topped it off with another steamroll of A10 preseason favorite St. Bonaventure at home. A very convincing 4 game win streak that brought Flyer fans back into the conversation for one of the teams that could win the A10 regular season title.
Then, the game against George Mason happened.
The Flyers looked like they regressed a bit on offense, completely blind-siding the Dayton fans with an out-of-nowhere bad performance that resulted in another one-point loss in conference play.
That night, Dayton shot 31.8% from 2 point land, where they typically shoot 55% on the season and 51.4% in conference play. The Flyers missed a lot of shots right by the rim, both contested and uncontested. Some of them were breakaway layups off of steals, which the Flyers had 8 of in that game, including 5 from Malachi Smith.
Dayton also could not hit many shots from the 3 point arch either, finishing 21.7% on the evening. In the previous 4 games, the Flyers shot 50% vs GW, 43.8% vs SLU, 44.4% vs Duquesne, and 55.6% vs Bona. Between that and the 2 point shooting woes, it was just a really off shooting night from the Flyers.
I do want to give George Mason some credit because they did contest many shots at the rim and denied DaRon Holmes the ball on many offensive possessions. Holmes finished with only 3 shots on the evening with 4 points, an amazing job by the Patriots. Mason’s guards also did a decent job on Smith, who went 4-13 from 2 on the evening for 12 points. Smith did miss a few close shots at the rim, but most of them were contested by Mason’s guards, who were a little bigger than 6-foot Mali Smith.
But Dayton had many chances to win that game as well as build a lead larger than 3. They had a chance to increase the pace of play, especially on the offensive end, but often did not take it. But also, many guys, like Smith, Elvis, and Camara, were able to create their own shot, but often took a bad one or had a few shots rim out. Brea, Elvis, and Amzil also had a hard time getting many of their three point attempts to fall, even on wide-open looks.
This brings me to my point: The two conference losses are mostly due to bad luck, not coaching.
For all the criticism that Anthony Grant gets for coaching, he deserves a lot of credit for how he has gotten this team to turn itself around after that VCU game. We never have seen Grant call out his team before in a press conference, but that night after the VCU loss, he did. And it seems to have resonated well with the players, who, for the most part, have played exceptional basketball. They are turning the ball over a lot less, they are showing more confidence in their shots, and they are dominating on defense. Dayton’s defense in A10 play has been sensational, allowing an average of 54.3 points per game. That is going to win you a lot of games most nights in the A10. They are also the most defensively efficient team in conference-play in the A10, even more than VCU, who is a top 5 defensive team. Lots of credit goes to Coach Grant on this.
Saturday’s loss against Mason could be attributed a bit to Grant’s in-game coaching, like with the lack of urgency to play with a faster pace, the inability to get DaRon Holmes more looks with the ball, or even to change something on the offensive sets to get better looks at the rim. But I see it more as the team’s inability to finish at the rim or hit wide open shots like what we saw in the previous 4 games. They missed many of these shots. Seems like a bit of an unlucky night from the field.
The loss against VCU was not really Grant’s fault, as he switched the defensive schemes from man to man to a 2-3 zone. This made the Rams very ineffective on offense, and Dayton seemed to be in line to win that game. But then a really tough contested three by Ace Baldwin downed the Flyers, losing by one. To me, that’s just more credit to VCU and just a bit of tough luck for Dayton.
So really, if you think about it, Dayton is one missed shot by both VCU and Mason from being 6-0 in conference play. Two, one-point losses suck, but Dayton is still poised to finish top 4 in conference play, and yes they are good enough to win the conference, despite Davidson’s 6-0 start.
Let’s see if the Flyers are up to the challenge.