They dug a whole to big to overcome, but not for a lack of trying. UD comes back from 22 down, but loses to VCU by a point at the buzzer.
DAYTON – It was evident that Virginia Commonwealth University basketball coach Mike Rhoades was prepared for his adventure Saturday afternoon into the holistic atmosphere of the University of Dayton Arena.
Moments before the tip-off he took off his suit coat and folded it neatly before handing off to a student manager. Then he glugged a full bottle of Aquafina, one of five bottles of water he chugged during the game.
He was ready for a roller coaster ride and it was beastly before the day was done, a squeamish and squirmish 69-68 VCU victory.
The score, though, is simplistic. The details are deleriously delicious.
Then with a full house of 13,147 lifting the roof on the place, and the white-clad students going bonkers on Whiteout Day, the Flyers mounted an unfathomable comeback.
They embarked on a magical, mystical ride, a 26-4 sprint over an 11-minute span during which VCU scored one basket and two free throws.
The house erupted with 7:20 left, ignited by Obi Toppin. No, it wasn’t due to one of his dunk assortments, but a long-range three that drew the Flyers to within 59-58.
The dunk came next, a thunderburst that put the Flyers on top, 60-59, after their 26-4 outburst.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, coach Rhoades had just enough water left and his team just enough petrol to fend off the scurrying Flyers.
VCU quickly regained the lead as Marcus Evans drove the paint and brushed home a two-pointer. The Rams maintained their small lead until with the shot clock expiring Jordan Davis flung an answered-prayer three and the Flyers led again, 66-65, with 1:05 left.
VCU made two free throws for a one-point lead and Obi Toppin followed his own missed shot to push the Flyers in front, 68-67, with 15 seconds left.
But the Flyers couldn’t impede or contain VCU’s Evans, a 6-foot-2 red shirt junior with moves that make defenders look as if they are playing checkers while he is playing chess.
After Toppin’s basket, Evans blew down the lane and blew away the Flyers, a lay-up with eight seconds left that provided the 69-68 victory.
Jordan Davis had a driving layup blocked out of bounds with one second left and Ryan Mikesell’s lob pass attempt to Toppin was stifled at the buzzer.
About Evans winning excursion to the basket, Mikesell said, “We knew he was their man guy, he averages 13 game. We knew they’d do that middle pick-and-roll action. He is just so good, so tough going downhill. He’s a great player.”
With a victory, the Flyers would have scrambled into a second place tie with VCU in the Atlantic 10 at 9-3. Instead, the one-point loss dropped the Flyers to 8-4 and lifted VCU to 10-3.
The Flyers dug a deep water-filled fox hole in the first half. With the score tied, 12-12, with 14:40 left, VCU patched together a 14-0 getaway for a 26-12 lead, a lead that expanded to 16 before settling for a 41-29 halftime lead.
The Flyers began the second half in a zone and VCU shattered it like a cheap cosmetic mirror, starting the second half on a 10-0 run and the 22-point lead, 51-29 less than three minutes into the second half.
“The zone to start the second half was disastrous,” said UD coach Anthony Grant. “They got that 10-0 run to put us in a hole, I’ll take the blame, that’s on me.”
The only reason the Flyers didn’t need smelling salts to finish the first half was a scoring binge by Mikesell, 13 points on six-of-seven sniping, 1 for 2 from three.
But Grant listed three things that punctured his Flyers in the first half.
“Turnovers, offensive rebounds and the three-point line,” said Grant. The Flyers had 11 turnovers in the first half, gave up seven offensive rebounds and VCU hit six threes.”
Grant, though, was pleased with his team’s effort and told them so after the game.
“The results weren’t what we wanted, but I couldn’t be prouder of the fight the guys showed, the character they showed,” he said. “To be down 22 with 17 minutes to play, the challenge was to stay together.
“They had to fight and continue to believe and we did that in great fashion,” he added. “Unfortunately we were not able to make enough great plays at the end of the game, but it was not for a lack of effort, belief or togetherness.”
The Flyers were without forward Trey Landers (shoulder injury), forcing Grant to a six-man rotation with a seventh man, Frankie Policelli, playing five minutes and contributing nothing.
Mikesell led the Flyers with 22, while Toppin contributed 15, Jalen Crutcher 13 and Josh Cunningham 10.
VCU guards De’Riante Jenkins (19) and Evans (12) sliced up the Flyers and forward Isaac Vann added 14.
“There is not any quit in any of these guys on this team,” said Mikesell. “We were down 22 and nobody in the huddle was freaking out. Everybody was pretty consistent in terms of our demeanor. Of course, we’d like to not get down 22.
“We worked our way back and gained the lead a couple of times,” Mikesell added. “They made more plays than us at the end of the game.”
Of the missing Landers, Mikesell said, “We knew we were missing bodies for this game but we kept telling ourselves to keep playing and fight our way back. It will be that way until Trey comes back.”
There is no schedule or timetable for his return and Mikesell said, “We miss his energy. You don’t have to worry about him bringing it. You know what he’ll give you. He is our most consistent guy. He might not be an offensive guy, but he is strong defensively and he’ll get offensive rebounds. His personality and leadership is contagious.”
Of the game’s last play, with :00.7 on the clock, Mikesell said, “It was supposed to be a lob pass to ‘O’ (Obi Toppin). They did a good job of taking it away. I talked to Jordan Davis after the game and he said his guy sunk in so I guess he was open in the corner. It was right there, but, learn from it.”
It was a very tough lesson.