ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The Flyers (20-12, 11-8 Atlantic 10 Conference) fell to archrival Xavier 70-69 in the quarterfinals of the A-10 conference tournament Friday in Atlantic City, N.J. Redshirt junior point guard Kevin Dillard led Dayton with 18 points and six assists. Xavier senior point guard Tu Holloway led all scorers with 21 points.
Dillard said after the game that this one got away.
“We shouldn’t have lost this one,” he said. “It hurts because it’s an elimination game and we wanted to win. We were in a good position to win.”
The Flyers led by six points with 3:02 left in the game. The momentum was in Dayton’s favor as UD was on a 9-4 run and Xavier appeared lost offensively with consecutive turnovers.
Junior Xavier guard Mark Lyons had almost as many fouls (two) as points (three) in the first half and was nonexistent. Down the stretch, he showed up.
He made all seven of Xavier final points and finished with 12 for the game. His biggest basket came with 21 seconds left in the game. He slashed to the basket and passed several Dayton defenders. While off balanced and in the air, he managed to lay the ball off the glass and in to give Xavier a 70-69 lead.
Dillard said Lyons’ late-game explosion turned the game on its side. Quickly.
“A six-point lead with two minutes left, I really thought we had it,” he said. “Then they came down ... they got Lyons free and he was able to make a couple shots, get fouled, make some free throws. And they made a game out of it real quick.”
Dayton had chances late. First-year Dayton head coach Archie Miller called a timeout with 17 seconds left. Dillard took the inbound and maneuvered around the outside. That’s when he found junior center Matt Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh was open less than two feet from the basket and appeared to have the game winner. The ball thought differently as it rolled around the rim and finally out. The scrum for the rebound knocked the ball out of bounds in Dayton’s favor with 5.3 seconds left in regulation.
On the inbound play, Kavanaugh was covered up by Xavier senior center Kenny Frease, so the pass went to UD senior forward Chris Johnson, who played limited minutes due to foul trouble. His 17-foot jumper was highly contested by Lyons and fell well short.
Miller said after the game this loss was on him.
“You can put this one on me,” he said. I’ve got to do a better job in the last four minutes. I’ve got to put those guys in a position to make a play. If you want to blame anybody or look an anybody for not getting the job done, just put that one right on the coach.”
He also said the final play could have been better.
“It was going to be a hard shot,” Miller said. “A hard shot. I wish I could have been able to draw something up a little bit better for him.”
UD went into halftime with a 38-28 lead thanks 6-for-14 shooting from behind the three-point line and an 8-for-11 performance from the free throw line. Xavier only managed 6-of-16 from the free throw line in the first half.
The second half started with both teams trading baskets until Xavier went on a run to close the gap. With 7:09 to go in the game, Lyons made a layup to make it 59-57 Xavier. Dillard then went on a 8-0 himself to put Dayton ahead.
Kavanaugh added to the run with two free throws and a fast break dunk that looked like it would seal the game for Dayton with a four-point lead, four minutes left and all the momentum.
Xavier (20-11, 11-6 A-10) then did what Xavier does. Miller said after the game, there’s a part of him that wants to see the Kavanaugh shot that nearly won the game.
“I’d like to see that last shot over again,” he said. “I probably won’t look at the film ever, but that last one looked like it could have went down. Would have been nice.”