Davidson freshman Kellan Grady lofted a shot toward the rafters at UD Arena. His half-court desperation heave looked good on the way but clanged off the backboard. It wouldn’t have counted anyway. The officials saw Grady release the ball after the buzzer, waving it off when the ball was still in the air.
With that, the Dayton Flyers returned to .500 with their third victory against a team sitting in the top five of the Atlantic 10 standings. Beating Davidson 65-64 on Tuesday doesn’t mean the Flyers (10-10, 4-4) are going to turn the corner and become a consistent winner — just as the 106-79 victory against Virginia Commonwealth didn’t lead to sustained success — but it does keep them in contention for one of the top four seeds in the conference tournament. They’re all alone in sixth place with 10 games to play.
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That’s important because Dayton’s only path to the NCAA tournament is through the A-10 tournament, and winning three games in three days will be much easier than winning four or five.
To get itself ready for the conference tournament in Washington, D.C., Dayton needs to make major strides on the defensive end, and it showed improvement Tuesday. Davidson shot 47.2 percent from the field, ending a streak of four games in which it topped 50 percent.
“From a defensive standpoint, it may have been our best effort of the year,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “The guys were locked into the scouting report. We did a tremendous job. Davidson is a very difficult team to guard with their spacing, their skill level and their shooting and the pace they run their offense. Our guys were on point in terms of what we needed to do from a defensive standpoint, which allowed us to get out and build the lead. They made their run, and we made a few of their own.”
Davidson (10-8, 5-2) didn’t score in the first six minutes. The Flyers came out in a man-to-man defense to guard against the 3-pointer, and it worked for a while. Davidson, which leads the A-10 in 3-pointers made (195 of 519) and ranks second in percentage (37.6), cut an early 12-0 deficit to 12-6 with two quick 3-pointers.
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Davidson had a better-than-average night from behind the arc, making 10 of 23 3-pointers (43.5), its fourth-best effort of the season. Dayton did a better job against Davidson inside the arc. The Wildcats rank 13th in the country in 2-point percentage (56.6) and shot 50 percent (15 of 30) against Dayton.
“We know they’re a prolific 3-point shooting team,” Grant said. “Sometimes you get caught up in hugging your man and being worried about where your guy’s going and what he’s doing. We had to be in a position where we could not only guard the 3-point line but also make sure they didn’t get anything free at the rim, any easy layups. Our guys did a great job of being in a position to help each other. (Davidson) did a lot of cutting. Our guys were aware of where they needed to be and when we needed to switch.”