It was a barely noticeable exchange between coach and player Saturday afternoon at UD Arena, but it spoke volumes.
With 12:06 left in the game, a suddenly rattled University of Mississippi team called a 60-second time out. The Dayton Flyers had taken their first lead since scoring the opening basket of the game and then quickly falling behind by 10.
As the Flyers’ starters swarmed toward the quickly forming huddle and the stools that awaited them, UD coach Anthony Grant sought only one person. He pushed toward Rodney Chatman as he came off the court, grabbed his forearm and pulled him close so he could voice his appreciation.
The senior guard tried to keep walking, but Grant held on and pulled him back to voice his praise once more.
After all, Chatman, more than anyone over the past four minutes, was responsible for lifting the Flyers out of their game-long deficit and into the lead of what would end up a hard-fought 65-62 Dayton victory.
“I thought Rodney Chatman was an absolute beast tonight with his effort and the things he did to put us on that run and give us that first lead,” Grant said afterward.
“Between the 16 minute mark and that 12 minute timeout, I thought it complete
ly changed the tenor of the game.”
And in that stretch it was almost all Chatman. He scored 10 of his 21 points in that stretch, made a steal and took a charge.
The 21 points mark his best scoring effort as a Flyer, though he did have 26 once before he transferred here three seasons ago from Tennessee Chattanooga.
By game’s end Saturday, he would have five steals and four assists, though he did have six turnovers, too. While the latter is not a number he wants, he more than made up for it. And it was not so much on the offensive end as it was with the defense he played.
He was disruptive, annoying and sometimes downright smothering.
He was the primary defender on Ole Miss’ leading scorer, Devontae Shuler, and held him to 4 for 16 shooting and 12 points, nearly six below his average.
The Flyers appreciate what Chatman does, so much so that they reached for almost mythical comparisons when they talked about him afterwards.
Flyers guard Ibi Watson described him as “the head of the snake.”
And for Grant , there was that “beast” reference.
Later Watson also said he’s “a dog every time” he plays.
The best description though came from Grant when he said: “He’s one of the best defenders, in my opinion, in the country.”
Watson feels the same and took a little dig at last year’s Atlantic 10 talent assessors when he noted:
“He got snubbed last year with the A-10 All-Defensive Team. I just want to put that out there.”
Chatman plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but also some real confidence.
In the Zoom press gathering after the game, someone asked if he took special note that Ole Miss had come into the game as an SEC team with a 4-0 record and a reputation for having a tough defense.
“I don’t take it personal,” he said. “They do what they do and I do what I do. And I feel like I do it better.”
He gives the 4-1 Flyers what thy desperately need this season: grit.
“That’s just me,” he said. “I feel like I show grit every game. (Today) I knew our team needed some stops, some energizer plays, so I stepped up in my role and did that.”
He and fellow guard Jalen Crutcher – who had a team-high 23 points Saturday – are the team’s most seasoned players. Chatman started last year and as sophomore at Chattanooga, too.
And he has the basketball genes. His dad Rodney Jr. played college ball at Southern Cal for George Raveling and his mom, Glenda, played at Bethune Cookman.
His parents, brother, grandad, an aunt and some cousins were some of the few fans allowed at Saturday’s game. In a change of roles from last season, they all wore masks now, but he didn’t.
Last year he was the one in protective face gear. The plastic mask he wore all season kept him from further injury to his right orbital bone which had been shattered by an elbow in a summer workout in 2019 and required surgery.
He said he doesn’t miss the mask this season. He said he can see the court far better than last year.
Ole Miss would agree.