RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Written off earlier in the season, undersized and undermanned Dayton is in pole position for the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship.
Jordan Sibert scored 19 points as the Flyers held off a second-half rally from No. 22 Virginia Commonwealth to win 59-55 at the Siegel Center on Saturday.
“The last five minutes was just survival,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said.
Dayton (22-6, 12-4 Atlantic 10) remained in a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 with Rhode Island, which beat La Salle on Saturday. Davidson, which played later Saturday, also was tied for first entering the game.
Down by two in the last minute, VCU (21-8, 11-5) had two chances to take the lead when Sibert missed a contested runner. Treveon Graham missed a long 3-pointer and Mo Alie-Cox grabbed the rebound, but couldn’t convert the putback.
“I just missed,” Alie-Cox said. “I just rushed my shot.”
Sibert secured the rebound and converted two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
“It was a good break for us,” he said. “They had a great shot at the end, a great look at the basket. It was just one of those breaks that we got.”
The Flyers lost a huge portion of their height and depth when forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott were dismissed from the team on Dec. 17. But they’ve gone 15-3 since despite not having any active players taller than 6-foot-6.
Sibert, the team’s leading scorer, has been hampered by an injured shooting wrist since December, preventing him from practicing.
“He’s not allowed to shoot, which is a good thing for a guy who shoots it every time he touches it in the game,” Miller said, joking.
Behind in the early going, the Flyers turned the tables late in the first half with a 12-3 run on the backs of Sibert and Kendall Pollard. VCU’s Melvin Johnson ended the streak with a 3-pointer, but Dyshawn Pierre matched him at the other end with a 3 heading into the halftime break, with Dayton ahead 33-29.
Dayton’s lead reached nine points at 45-36 early in the second half before Graham started a steady comeback with a 3-pointer. He had a chance to tie the game at 53 when he was fouled on a made layup, but missed the free throw. Pierre then made a hook shot at the other end.
Pollard had 16 points before fouling out, and Pierre had 13 points and seven rebounds for Dayton.
“I never felt that they hit us with that knockout-blow run where the crowd really just erupted,” Miller said. “I thought the last five minutes was a little hard, but we were able to stem those off.”
A major part of that success came from taking care of the ball. The Flyers turned the ball over just eight times against a VCU team that forces nearly 17 turnovers per game.
The Rams scored just three points off turnovers and failed to score any fast-break points for the second consecutive game.
“That’s something that we have come to rely on quite a bit,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “Scoring in fast-break situations, scoring on turnovers. Dayton did a good job limiting their turnovers, but even the turnovers we did force, we really weren’t able to convert a lot of those into points.”
Graham and Alie-Cox led VCU with 12 points each, while Alie-Cox grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. The Rams shot just 34.5 percent.
“You can’t fault guys if they shoot the ball the right way and take the right shots,” Smart said. “But when you shoot that kind of percentage, miss layups and dunks, the margin for error is a lot lower.”
Dayton: The Flyers featured two recent inductees into the 1,000-point club. Senior guard Jordan Sibert reached the milestone in the Flyers’ previous outing against George Mason, while junior forward Dyshawn Pierre hit it two games before against Saint Joseph’s. Coach Miller was 57 points short of 1,000 during his career at North Carolina State (1997-2002).
Virginia Commonwealth: Smart began his Division I coaching career as Dayton’s director of basketball operations from 2001-03 under then-coach Oliver Purnell. He had previously spent two years as an assistant at Division II California (Pa.)..Reserve forward Justin Tillman, who missed the Rams’ previous game with an injured shoulder, was back in uniform Saturday. Fellow reserve Michael Gilmore (personal reasons) remained away from the team.
Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden attended the game. His son, Joey, is a sophomore guard for Dayton.
At the under-12 minute timeout in the first half, just three players had scored. Sibert had all seven of Dayton’s points, while Alie-Cox scored the first five for the Rams before leaving the game, at which point Doug Brooks scored six in a row.
Dayton: Hosts Rhode Island on Tuesday.
Virginia Commonwealth: Visits Davidson on Thursday.
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