It was a game that seemed almost scripted before play began, as senior guard Bryan Bynes returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury on Senior Day.
The game that would decide GW’s postseason future was tied at halftime.
Then, it was tied in the final minute, on senior guard Lasan Kromah’s 1,000th career point.
A thundering Isaiah Armwood dunk put GW up. A buzzer-beater three from Dayton, after review, was no good. And the Colonials took home an 81-80 victory.
“I’m excited for the team. And I’m also excited, and I respect Bryan Bynes for coming back,” senior forward Dwayne Smith said. “Him coming back showed character. And he had an awesome game, not great, awesome. He’s part of the real reason that we won.”
The win aids GW’s search for an A-10 championship bid: while the team must wait for the official results of the Richmond, Charlotte and St. Bonaventure games to find out their final rank, it seems likely the Colonials are headed to Brooklyn.
And they’re doing it off the strength of the Armwood putback dunk, a slam so massive it shook the screw and bolt of the backboard loose, lying on the Smith Center hardwood after the game.
“It was any other dunk, it was regular. But since that was the one that put us over the top, gave us that one point, it was everything,” Armwood said. “Once I looked at the bench and saw my teammates jumping up and down, I knew I did something good.”
The Colonials started their seniors, Bryan Bynes – returning from what was thought to be a season-ending injury – and Dwayne Smith taking the floor to begin play.
GW was hot, feeding off the emotion, from the start. A quick 8-0 run allowed the team to jump out to an early lead, but Dayton soon found its strength. The Flyers easily found their way around the Colonials’ man defense, penetrating with ease.
Quick cuts to the basket and effortless midrange jumpers helped Dayton to 57.4 percent shooting on the day, shaking GW early. Pulling his team into a huddle, head coach Mike Lonergan made the switch into the zone.
“We realized that the 1-3-1 was one of the crucial changes,” Smith said. “We stuck with that, we saw our progress, and coach stayed with it. And that’s part of the reason why we won.”
And then, Dayton’s offensive effectiveness dropped. The Flyers began missing shots, or turning it over to GW without making an attempt toward the rim. Slowly, the Colonials clawed their way back into the game.
Dayton had 21 turnovers on the day, mistakes that the Colonials converted into 28 points. Feeding off its defensive energy perhaps, GW’s ball control was markedly better, turning it over just 13 times.
At halftime, the game was tied.
“It was a battle, that’s for sure. We didn’t help ourselves at the free throw line, of course,” Lonergan said. “But we made enough plays to get out of there with an overtime win.”
There would be no easy victories to be had in the Smith Center Saturday. The game saw 11 ties and 11 lead changes.
Though Dayton never quite regained its early offensive flow, the Colonials couldn’t conclusively pull away from the Flyers. GW squandered turn after turn at the free throw line, going just 20-42 on the game. They were easy points that could have helped the team extend a shaky lead- but that wasn’t in the cards.
“It’s something we have to control as a team,” Armwood said. “There’s nothing the coaches can do about it. As players, we have to step up and knock them down.”
Still, the chances at the line still proved beneficial for a team that saw its interior game suffer against the Flyers. With just six assists on the day, GW relied on cuts to the net and paint maneuvers for the bulk of its points on 45.3 percent shooting.
Five Colonials scored in double figures, including Armwood, who had 12 points and eight boards. Kromah posted 12 points and five rebounds, McDonald a team-high 16 points and five boards. But it was Smith and Bynes who shone, combining for 28 points. Smith added five boards and four steals, Bynes three boards and an assist. Their emotional energy was invaluable, Lonergan said.
“That really helped us,” Lonergan said. “Bryan being a quick guard for us on [Dayton forward Kevin] Dillard, it helped us a lot, it made our bench deeper. And Dwayne was fired up today for senior day, and he gave us more contribution than he’s been giving.”
The two seniors’ attitudes carried over to the rest of the team. It was a grinding, hard-fought win, one that saw the Colonials take a 20-5 advantage in second chance points and a 23-7 advantage on offensive rebounds.
It was the sort of fire in their bellies that the Colonials need to carry to Brooklyn.
“It’s not official yet. You never know, with our luck, what could happen,” Lonergan cautioned. “But we are happy we won.”