There’s an old saying – especially in boxing, where the once-feared heavyweight Sonny Liston used it more than once – that goes:
“Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird butt.”
I don’t want to say that totally fits the Dayton Flyers’ late-game swoon in a 67-63 loss to George Mason on Wednesday night at UD Arena – they didn’t big-mouth it at the end – but they certainly did show some hummingbird tail feathers in the final minutes.
With 4:20 left in the game, George Mason called time out to regroup. Dayton had just scored five straight points – on a Ryan Mikesell 3-pointer and a Josh Cunningham fast break lay-up – to turn a three-point deficit into a two-point lead, 60-58.
And UD seemed about to expand that advantage because Cunningham had been fouled before the time out and was headed to the line for a 1-and-1.
Mikesell remembered the chatter in the Flyers huddle then:
“During that time out, we’re talking to each other, saying, ‘Let’s run it up. Let’s get it going. Let’s keep getting stops and executing on the offensive end.’”
In the opposite huddle, George Mason coach Dave Paulsen – who put together a masterful game plan in the second half that shut down the Flyers’ inside game – was hammering out the details to curtail the Flyers.
And over that final 4:20, UD ran nothing up.
The Flyers made just one basket – a Jordan Davis three pointer with 2:58 left – and then missed four straight field goal attempts, the front end of two 1-and-1 opportunities they had, turned the ball over three times and fouled three times.
George Mason, meanwhile, went on a 7-0 run.
For the Flyers, one question now remains: Should Rudy Flyer be replaced by a ruby-throated or a black-necked hummingbird?
It was the second time in three games the Dayton offense has fallen flat in the final minutes of a game. A week earlier at VCU, the Flyers scored just two points in the final four minutes – going one for six from the field and committing two turnovers – in a 76-71 loss.
Against Mississippi State – in a game Dayton led most of the way – the Flyers swooned at the end, as well and fell by seven.
“At some point we’ve got to change and not keep doing the same things over and over again,” UD coach Anthony Grant said. “We’ve got to mature.”
Mikesell tried to explain: “We’ve got to dig deep and win these games. We’ve been in how many close games where we lost? I don’t think we’ve been blown out in any games, but we’ve got to figure it out in these close games.
“You can’t just play hard, you’ve got to play smart. Know when to pick your spots and what’s a good shot at the end. We’ve got to rebound and hit the free throws when we get the chance.”
And yet for all the late miscues, UD did have a chance at the end Wednesday.
Mikesell rebounded a Mason miss with 29 seconds left and UD down by just two points, 65-63. With 19 seconds left Davis missed a floater in the paint, but the Patriots knocked the ball out of bounds.
After a timeout, Dayton inbounded the ball, made another pass and – in a debatable decision — called another time out with 10.8 seconds left so they could in bound again from the other side of the court.
That set up Mikesell’s inbounds pass to Cunningham, who then passed it back to the redshirt junior, who drove the lane against two defenders, then passed the ball to Crutcher, who was beyond the arc, in front of the UD bench.
He launched a quick, contested three that missed everything. Mason’s Jared Reuter rebounded, was fouled and made the two free throws for the four-point win.
So what went wrong?
The most obvious failures were the long-range misfires by Crutcher, who was 2 for 9 from beyond the arc, and Davis, who went 2 for 10. Add in their two point misses and they were a combined 5 for 26 from the floor.
Ironically, the pair came into the game as two of the best long-range shooters in the Atlantic 10.
Davis – who went 7 for 11 from three-point range against George Washington and 6 for 8 against UMass – was No. 2 in league games in 3-point accuracy (51.5) and treys made. In all games, Crutcher was No. 2 in threes made and No. 3 in percentage (41.1).
“They are the two best shooters on the team,” Mikesll said. “JD has been on fire for us the last four games. Tonight I told him every time: ‘Keep shooting! Keep shooting! Keep shooting!’ With the law of averages, they were gonna go in. Unfortunately, tonight they didn’t.”
Grant said: “That’s basketball. He’s been so hot for us from the three-point line. He got some looks tonight, but they just didn’t go in.
“The normal tendency is you get frustrated… but the game doesn’t allow for that. You’ve got to be able to quickly move on to the next play. You can’t let something that happened at one end – positive or negative – impact the next play
“That happened to him and several other guys tonight. One play impacted the next two or three and Mason held us accountable.
“As a young team that’s part of the lesson we have learn: ‘On nights when my shot doesn’t fall – when things aren’t going as I want them to or expect them – I need to do other things to help the team, whether it’s play defense, cheer my teammates, whatever.’”
The onus on this one sets on the players and the coaches.
On a night when the Flyers weren’t hitting from three-point range, they kept shooting from afar. They made just eight of 27 attempts, shooting 26.7 percent. It was the second most threes UD attempted in a game this year and tied for fourth worst in accuracy.
UD’s big men, Cunningham and Obi Toppin – two of the best percentage shooters in the league – were again on the mark, making 10 of their 14 shots. But Cunningham, who had nine points in the first six minutes and 11 at the half, only got three shots in the second half (and made two.)
While Toppin got nine second-half points, Mason went out of its way to keep him from any of those rousing alley-oop dunks that get the UD crowd so amped up.
After the game Paulsen talked about just that, how they didn’t want Toppin to ignite the crowd of 12,895 and make UD Arena an even tougher place to play. In four previous trips, the Patriots had never won here.
Add in the late missed free throws by Cunningham and Toppin, the turnovers by Toppin and Crutcher and the lack of options that come from a short bench and a mostly seven-man rotation and you have the elements for the fade.
More than once Mikesell mentioned UD’s failure to “dig deep.”
As Toppin put it: “They came out with a lot of energy and fought harder than us.”
And so the Flyers had another hummingbird butt finish on their season.
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