Dayton Flyers ready to refocus for A-10 tournament

A “Let’s go Flyers” chant started just before the opening tip Saturday at the Smith Center. George Washington packed the arena for Senior Night with a little help from the Flyer Faithful, whose devotion has been rewarded all season with rare exceptions — the regular-season finale being one.

In judging Dayton’s worst performances of the season, this 87-81 loss would rank third behind losses to Northwestern and Massachusetts.

RELATED: ‘Mental fatigue’ played part in defeat

The UMass loss ranks first because the Flyers had no business losing to a poor team that went into a tailspin right after that game, finishing 14-17 and 4-14 in the A-10. The Northwestern game ranks second because the Flyers trailed 40-17 at halftime. Against George Washington, the Flyers (24-6, 15-3) did recover after falling behind 21-5 in the opening minutes, but they never got close enough to truly make the Colonials (18-13, 10-8) nervous.

“Our biggest fears came true,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “We were just so stuck in the mud from Wednesday night and feeling really good about ourselves. We were playing a team that was feeling really good about itself, and they kicked our you know what for about 40 minutes. Like I told the guys, you never want to not recognize a full regular season and you’re emotional after a game, but that’s unacceptable. This should set the tone for a much more ready team when we go to Pittsburgh because if you lose your edge, if you lose your competitive spirit, if you’re not all dialed in, anyone can beat you.”

Here are three things to know about Saturday’s game:

1. Five decisive minutes: George Washington couldn’t miss. In fact, it didn’t miss for the first five minutes.

Here’s a summary of George Washington’s first nine possessions: jumper by Patrick Steeves; 3-pointer by Matt Hart; 3-pointer by Tyler Cavanaugh; layup by Cavanaugh; jumper by Yuta Watanabe; layup by Hart; layup by Cavanaugh; 3-pointer by Watanabe; and jumper by Steeves to end the run at the 14:53 mark.

By the time, Steeves missed a 3-pointer at the 14:21 mark, Dayton trailed 21-5. The Flyers would trail by double digits for the most of the night and never got closer than five points.

“It’s incredible to get the best team in the conference on our floor,” said Cavanaugh, who scored 19 of his 30 points in the first half. “We came out firing. I mean we didn’t miss. I was happy we could hold on. I just wanted the clock to run to zeros because that’s a great team. We knew they were going to fight, so I was happy with our resiliency. So many guys contributed, which is what made it so special.”

2. A hot team: George Washington ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak. It got hot in March a year ago, too, winning the NIT championship. The firing of its head coach, Mike Lonergan, in September seemed to spell doom for the Colonials, but interim coach Maurice Joseph has done an excellent job down the stretch. GW (18-13, 10-8) is the No. 6 seed in the A-10 tournament.

“I think we are playing the best basketball of our season,” Joseph said. “Last few games, whether it be high assists or low turnovers, there’s been a couple stats that really stand out that we didn’t see earlier in the year. That’s a telling sign of a team that’s getting better.”

3. Big picture: Dayton is the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament. It will play No. 8 seed La Salle (15-14, 9-9) or No. 9 seed Davidson (15-13, 8-9) at noon Friday.

Dayton beat Davidson 89-82 in overtime on Feb. 24. The Flyers had an easier time against La Salle, winning 66-55 in the A-10 opener on Dec. 30.

HIGHLIGHTS: Dayton’s top plays vs. GW

If Dayton advances to the semifinals and the other top seeds win, its opponent at 1 p.m. Saturday would be No. 4 seed Rhode Island.

The six-day break should help the Flyers. It will be the longest break they’ve had between games since December. Miller plans to make the most of the time.

“We’re going to work,” he said. “We have to work. When you’re winning it’s good, but there’s some slippage. But I’m not going to take away from what just happened. We’re 24-6. We’re the regular-season champs. At the end of the day, this is very disappointing, but it’s going to refocus us as we get ready for that first round.”

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