For more than a decade, VCU and Dayton have had a stranglehold on the Atlantic 10 conference.
Since VCU joined the league in the 2012-13 season, either the Rams or the Flyers have finished in the top two of the A-10 every year but one.
The case is no different this season, as No. 18 Dayton looks to improve on its stellar conference record on Friday when it travels to Richmond, Va., to take on the Rams.
Dayton (19-3, 9-1) also will have revenge on its mind, as its NCAA Tournament hopes were squashed by VCU last March, as the Flyers fell to the Rams 68-56 in the A-10 championship game.
However, this year’s Dayton team has improved in one major way — it can score.
The Flyers have enjoyed a stark difference in their offensive efficiency, seeing their points per game jump from last season’s 68.6 to 75.0 this year. Even more impressive is Dayton’s 3-point surge.
Dayton made just 33.8 percent of its triples last year, opposed to the 40 percent clip its shooting this season, which is good for fifth-best in the nation.
The team’s revamped shooting was on display in Tuesday’s 94-79 win at Saint Joseph’s, as the Flyers shot a season-high 56.9 percent from the field, including a 12-for-22 (54.5 percent) 3-point showing.
After an early 11-point deficit, Dayton rallied for 60 second-half points, winning its 16th game in its last 17 tries.
“We knew today was going to be a very challenging environment to come into,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said postgame. “(Saint Joseph’s) came out early with great energy, made shots and built a lead. But our guys showed great resiliency. We were able to weather that storm and chip away.”
With the A-10 scoring leader DaRon Holmes II held to just 4-for-9 shooting from the field, Dayton turned to Nate Santos and Kobe Elvis to step up, each scoring 21 points in the win.
“That just shows the versatility that our team has on any given day,” Elvis said. “And just how many weapons our team has. Guys that can really shoot the ball, put the ball on the floor and score on all three levels.”
Following Holmes’ 19.7 points per game are Santos (11.7) and Koby Brea (10.7). Brea also leads the nation with a 48.4 percent 3-point shooting mark.
Out to once again derail Dayton’s season is a VCU squad that has won seven of its past eight games in conference play.
The Rams (15-8, 7-3) ran away from Fordham on Tuesday, thanks to a 20-4 second-half run in the 75-60 win.
“I thought our guys did a nice job in the second half of taking care of the ball, defending the 3-point line and certainly a better job of rebounding,” VCU coach Ryan Odom said.
After stints at UMBC and Utah State, Odom is vying for his first marquee win in his debut season with the Rams.
“We tell our guys, every game that you play, your mindset has to treat it like a championship game,” Odom added. “If you want to compete for a championship, that’s the mindset we’ve got to have every day.”
VCU’s top two scorers are both newcomers. Utah State transfer Max Shulga leads the team with 15.1 points per game, followed by 12.8 points per game from fellow transfer Joe Bamisile.
The two teams will meet again March 8 in Dayton.
–Field Level Media
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