The Atlantic 10 tournament was kicked off in proper fashion. And the unwritten law in college basketball held true; it is nearly impossible to beat the same team three times in one season.
The Dayton Flyers beat their rivals, the Xavier Musketeers 68-67 in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Championship in Atlantic City.
The Flyers came out of the gates firing as they went into the first media timeout with a 12-3 lead. Paul Williams had five early points to lead the attack.
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Xavier struggled mightily from the field. After seven minutes had gone by the Musketeers had still only hit one shot, a three-pointer by their leader, Tu Holloway.
Over the next five minutes, the Flyers early success from long distance took a turn for the worst. The Flyers went cold and Mark Lyons, Xavier’s starting shooting guard, took advantage.
Lyons followed a Holloway three-ball with one of his own and on the ensuing possession took one hard to the rack to bring the Musketeers within seven. The score was 25-18 with 7:45 remaining in the first half.
The Flyers showed resilience, though.
All season long, the Flyers have let their opponent control the tempo of the game. The first half provided a similar story; 25 points in the first ten minutes with a run-and-gun style. The 11 points in the remaining ten minutes of the half was the result of Xavier controlling the tempo.
Lyons and Holloway slowed the game down with their deceiving half-court offense and helped to improve the Musketeers 21-3 defecit.
Consecutive lay-ups by Matt Kavanaugh, back-up center for the Flyers, were vital in the final two minutes of the half.
As time expired, Juwan Staten, took Lyons off the dribble and spun into the lane for a momentum-swinging lay-up to give the Flyers a 36-27 halftime lead.
Williams and Jamel McLean, for the Musketeers, traded long balls to start the second half.
Stingy defense by Xavier helped to generate some Flyer turnovers. Two consecutive travels by Chris Wright and a mishandle by Staten shifted the momentum slightly in Xavier’s favor.
An unexpected spark came from the Dayton bench with 13 minutes remaining in the game. Luke Fabrizius took a charge on the defensive end, hit his second three-pointer of the game and hit a turn-around jumper from eight feet.
A backcourt violation by Lyons and a deep three by Williams forced Xavier to use a timeout. The Flyers had extended their lead to 17, 54-37 with 12:17 remaining.
Xavier responded as any rival would. Kenny Frease established himself in the paint with four consecutive points. Holloway and Lyons played their part by hitting consecutive three’s. Just like that, the lead was down to six. The score was 59-53 with just under eight minutes to go in regulation.
McLean followed the media timeout with an authoritative slam dunk over Williams and Kenny Frease finished another lay-up on the following possession.
Brian Gregory and his staff called a timeout in attempt to calm the storm as the lead was cut to just two points with seven minutes remaining.
Wright, in his potential last game as a Flyer, made a strong move to the basket for two and hustled back to the defensive end with a block. The loose ball was gathered underneath by Lyons and Wright reluctantly picked up his fourth foul.
Lyons made one of two from the line to cut the Flyer lead to four, 64-60 with 3:30 remaining.
With Wright on the bench and the only other senior, Devin Searcy, out due to a first-half injury, the Flyers looked lost. Xavier tied the score at 64 with 2:30 left to play.
Holloway was double-teamed and forced up a 30-footer the clanked off the backboard into Dayton’s possession.
A sloppy offensive possession somehow opened up a hole in the Xavier defense and Josh Benson laid one in to give Dayton the lead, 66-64 with 1:30 remaining.
Another stop by the Flyer defense set-up a critical possession. Gregory called a timeout with 39 seconds remaining and 20 left on the shot clock.
Sure enough, a 5-second violation led to a Flyers turnover. Holloway responded with an and-one lay-up to tie the game. He would head to the line boasting an 87% free-throw percentage, tops in the A-10. Needless to say, Holloway gave Xavier the lead with the made attempt. 67-66, Xavier led with 12.6 seconds remaining.
Johnson missed a 15-footer only to be followed up by Fabrizius. He was followed on the put back and hit a pair from the line with five seconds remaining. Dayton led Xavier 68-67 with one last shot for the Musketeers.
That’s when Staten made the play of the game.
Holloway in-bounded the ball to Frease who attempted to get the ball back to Holloway. Staten denied and poked the ball away. Holloway recovered but only had enough time to throw up a half-court prayer.
The shot hit off the backboard and the Flyers came away with the win.
68-67 was the final score and all of the fans at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City got their money’s worth.
Dayton advances to the semi-final game which will be played Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. They will face St. Joes.