By Taylor Nigrelli
RICHMOND —The Dayton Flyers (22-6, 15-2) narrowly avoided a quarterfinal upset at the hands of the VCU Rams (22-9, 9-8) Friday with a 62-61 victory in the Atlantic 10 women’s basketball championship tournament.
The top-seeded Flyers trailed the eighth-seeded Rams by as many as 18 points in the first half, but ultimately prevailed in a tightly-contested game.
Dayton Coach Jim Jabir wasn’t surprised by the trouble VCU gave his team – he was expected a much closer game than the average one vs. eight seed affair.
“VCU’s a very good team,” Jabir said. “They’re tough to play against because of their zone (defense) and their athleticism. I thought they’d be the toughest draw.”
After a lopsided first half, Dayton began to heat up in the latter part of the game, cutting an 18-point deficit down to 13, then to five, then to three with various runs.
Dayton junior forward Ally Malott finally tied the game with a lay-up with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
The score remain tied with a shade over 16 seconds left when VCU Coach Marlene Stollings called a timeout in anticipation of her team’s final possession.
But the team never got a shot off as Rams freshman guard Keira Robinson’s attempted pass was tipped, leading to a fast break lay-up by Dayton freshman guard Celeste Edwards. The basket gave the Flyers their first lead in over 38 minutes of game time with just over six seconds left on the clock.
“I knew what the situation was and I knew we needed to score,” Edwards said. “I knew (sophomore guard Amber Deane) would make the pass and even though my shot wasn’t falling, I just let it go.”
In a last-ditch attempt to tie the game, Robinson aggressively dribbled up court and was fouled by Malott. She hit her first free throw but was unable to connect on the second, earning Dayton a trip to the semi-finals for the seventh consecutive season.
“I just should have made it,” Robinson said.
This particular matchup was more hard-fought and closely contested than the average conference game for Dayton. Jabir believed that this was partly due to VCU’s aggressive defense. However, his team was able to adjust and outscore the Rams 52-33 after falling behind by 18 early.
“In the first half, we didn’t take care of the ball,” Jabir said. “I think the adjustments we made at the half were to try to go inside where we had an advantage and not settling for threes.”
Malott paced Dayton with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, junior guard and A-10 player of the year Andrea Hoover overcame a slow start to finish with 15 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Hoover picked up three fouls in the first half and was straddling the line with four late in the second half. She played with caution at first but claims she abandoned that mentality in the game’s final minutes.
“For the first three or four minutes after I (returned to the game), I was playing a little careful,” Hoover said. “I know (VCU senior forward Robyn Parks) drove it and I didn’t do anything because I couldn’t foul. But when it got back under two minutes, I said ‘ok, I can play regular defense again.”
Parks, who earned a spot on the Atlantic 10’s All-Conference team this year, scored a team-high 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds for the Rams in her final Atlantic 10 game.
The Rams finished the season with 22 wins just two years into Stollings’ tenure. Despite the difficult nature of Friday’s loss, the team has plenty to look forward to according to its coach.
“We’re sitting here with 22 wins, Dayton actually just matched our win total,” Stollings said. “This talented group of youngsters – they now know what it takes, the work ethic it takes day in and day out. And we have a highly-touted class coming in next year. So, we’re full speed ahead.”
With the win, Dayton advances to the semi-finals to face the winner of the Saint Joseph’s/George Washington matchup. Tipoff is set for Saturday at 11 am.