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Late-game steals sink Dayton, complete VCU comeback

With 46 seconds remaining on Friday night at a packed and rowdy UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio, the Dayton Flyers – dressed in their Chapel Blues – looked to put a bow on a dominant night.

The game against the VCU Rams – a Friday night ESPN showcase game – had been led nearly wire-to-wire by the Flyers, on the strength of a career-high 27 points from junior Toumani Camara. The Flyers now held a 62-58 lead with the chance for more at the free throw line.

Freshman Mike Sharavjamts missed the front end of the one-and-one. VCU ball.

On the ensuing VCU possession, Rams point guard Ace Baldwin threw the ball out of bounds with 34 seconds remaining after a miscommunication with David Shriver. The turnover gave Dayton the ball, a two-possession lead, and an 89.4% win probability with 34 seconds to go.

That’s where things get interesting.

On the ensuing possession, Shriver picked off a pass from Sharavjamts, and in one fluid motion pulled up and drained a 3-point jumper – Shriver’s sixth of the game. The defensive effort cut the Flyers lead down to 62-61 with 28 seconds to play.

Dayton quickly got the ball across the timing line on the next possession before sophomore Nick Kern made the defensive play of the season and stripped Camara.

From there, the rest is history.

In 18 seconds of game time, VCU scored five unanswered points and took its first lead since the 17:36 mark of the first half. Per ESPN, VCU now had a 62.4% chance of winning.

Things continued to break VCU’s way on the ensuing Dayton possession, which was barely a possession at all. Sharavjamts could not handle the inbound pass, which deflected off of his shin and went immediately out of bounds.

After playing the foul game a bit, Dayton’s last chance jumper from Camara missed and Jalen DeLoach secured a game-sealing defensive rebound, allowing the clock to expire on one of the most improbable victories of the Mike Rhoades era, a 63-62 win against the previously-unbeaten-in-Atlantic 10-play Flyers.

The late-game defensive effort capped a massive comeback for the Rams, who trailed by as many as 16 points and entered the locker room at halftime down 33-19. The Flyers dominated the first half, on the strength of 13 first half points from Camara. At halftime, Camara and forward DaRon Holmes combined for 19 points and nine made field goals – equaling VCU’s entire team in both marks.

But VCU opened the second half with a 6-0 run and eventually pulled to within seven points, a range the Rams stayed within for much of the second half while keeping the pressure firmly on the Flyers. Much of that effort came courtesy of an offensive explosion from Shriver, who scored all of his team-high 18 points in the second half.

Shriver was the star of the night, earning attention from the national media following his explosive performance and clutch steal.

The only other VCU player to join Shriver in double-digits was graduate student Brandon Johns Jr., who tacked on 16 points of his own on 8-for-12 shooting. Like Shriver, Johns scored the bulk of those in the second half of the game.

DeLoach continued his impressive season on the boards by corralling a team-high eight rebounds – including the game-sealing defensive board.

While Baldwin had a quiet night at first glance, the junior guard from Maryland continued to stuff the stat sheet. He led the team in assists with four, while adding on six points and four rebounds in the winning effort. Baldwin played all but one minute on Friday night, proving his durability after missing five games earlier in the season to injury.

Sophomore Nick Kern started again for the Rams on Friday after earning his first-career start earlier in the week in the win against Loyola-Chicago. Kern scored nine points on 4-for-7 from the floor, along with three rebounds and two steals – including the go-ahead steal-and-score in the game’s final moments.

The move to start Kern represented the first major roster shakeup in weeks for head coach Mike Rhoades. The move was made to address a trend of slow starts by VCU over the last month, with the hopes that Kern can provide a defensive spark in the game’s early minutes while Jamir Watkins’ offensive skills can lead the second unit.

While the trend of slow starts has continued even after the switch, the move to play Kern in crunch time possibly decided the game in VCU’s favor considering how Friday night’s closing seconds played out.

Had VCU not snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, the game would likely be remembered as the Toumani Camara game. In addition to his 27 points, Camara provided 11 rebounds in a full 40 minutes of game time – while looking unstoppable during the first half. However, Camara committed nine turnovers in the contest, including two in the final 20 seconds.

After a slow first half, Holmes found his rhythm and joined Camara in double figures by providing 13 points of his own. Holmes entered the night coming off a 32-point game against Fordham – his second 32-point outing in three games.

After leading for more than 34 minutes of game time, the Flyers fell to 12-6, 4-1 in A-10 play. VCU improves to 13-5 overall, leveling with Dayton at 4-1 in A-10 play. Due to tiebreaking rules, VCU has now vaulted to the top of the conference standings as of Jan. 13.

Beyond that, the win contained further significance for the Rams. The victory is VCU’s first Quadrant 1 win of the season, following Quadrant 1 losses in the nonconference slate to Arizona State and Memphis. The win also gives Rhoades a 9-4 record against Dayton during his tenure at VCU and breaks a tie with Dayton head coach Anthony Grant for wins since joining their respective teams in 2017. Entering Friday night, both coaches had 114 wins over the last six seasons.

VCU’s next game is at home on Tuesday night against Massachusetts. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. from the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond.