Pat Higgins | Asst. Sports Editor
The Dukes faced the top team in the Atlantic 10 at the Palumbo Center Saturday night just under a month before the conference tournament in Richmond.
Senior forward Wumi Agunbiade netted 30 points, but the Dayton Flyers downed the Red & Blue in a tightly contested matchup by a score of 87-77. With the loss, they fell to 16-8 overall and 8-3 in the Atlantic 10, now tied for third place with Fordham with road games against St. Bonaventure (19-6 overall, 8-2 A10) and St. Joseph’s (17-6 overall, 6-4 A10) up next.
Agunbiade turned in a season-high on the scorer’s sheet, but said after the game that “it doesn’t matter whatsoever because we didn’t come out with a win, and that’s what kills me.”
The Dukes did everything right that is, except for score. They matched Dayton on the boards, recorded four fewer turnovers and five more steals, but shot only 35 percent from the field (22-63) to Dayton’s 54 percent.
Coach Dan Burt chalked up the loss to shooting woes after the game.
“I thought that game kind of had the emotion of a rivalry, but we fell a little short,” he said. “I think we’re a couple possessions away from being the equal. But when one team shoots 54 percent from the field and the other team shoots 35 percent from the field, you’re probably not gonna win, especially against a team of this caliber.”
The Dukes hung with the Flyers for most of the game. They took a 22-18 lead with 9:41 to go in the first half on a fast-break layup from Agunbiade but Dayton bounced back to tie a minute later. They regained the lead at the 7:32 mark and took a 45-37 advantage into the half.
Orsi Szecsi recorded three points and four rebounds in 17 minutes before fouling out. The Red & Blue came within four in the second half, but Dayton maintained a steady lead through the remainder of the game to extend their winning streak to three.
“It’s a 10-point loss to the second-best team we’ve played all year. Other than Notre Dame, you’re notgoing to find a better team on our schedule,” Burt said. “We had people that were in foul trouble. We had some people that weren’t up to their usual standard in terms of scoring the ball. We missed layup after layup after short bunny after short bunny and you can’t do that against this kind of team. If we make those layups, it’s probably a tie game.”
Though the loss will sting for a few days, the Dukes remain focused on the road to the postseason still ahead. After back-to-back losses to George Washington on Feb. 5 and now Dayton, they still have opportunities to right the ship with games against four of the top five teams in the conference before the end of the month.
Agunbiade said there’s still a lot of season left.
“We know that we can compete with these teams, and we are at the top of our conference,” she said. “I believe that we’re not playing our best basketball just yet … we’re still making strides. From here on out we just have to go back and watch film and learn from where we had slip-ups and build from there.”
Burt said the team will take some time to focus on fundamentals before they begin preparing for St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph’s this week.
“Both teams are very, very well-coached and we have to get these two wins,” he said. “Because if we can right the ship and get these two wins, all the sudden we’re in second place [in the A10] by ourselves. Our destiny is in our hands. If we win these next couple games, we’re in great shape and we should be able to get by for the conference tournament.”