Highlights: Dayton Flyers fall to Mississippi State
Photo: David Jablonski - Staff Writer
Photo: David Jablonski - Staff Writer

Archdeacon: Flyers in good hands with Crutcher running the show

He was done with everything now – his duties handled at the postgame press conference, his exit made from the dressing room and the teammates who met with their families and friends just outside of it – and he had sat down in a chair in a private area between the Donoher Center and UD Arena to spend a few moments with his dad and cousin who had come up from Memphis.

That’s when Jalen Crutcher found himself in the hoops version of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”

»RELATED: 5 takeaways from Flyers’ loss to Mississippi State

That’s when the Dayton Flyers sophomore point guard turned into a goateed, tricky-dribbling version of Ebenezer Scrooge, although rather than a miserly skinflint, he’s known for his assists.

In fact, he had just had seven of them in the Flyers’ 65-58 loss to Mississippi State on the Arena floor just below him.

Now, as he was staring into the screen of his phone, checking messages and sending his own, Crutcher felt the shadow of Scoochie Smith, the Ghost of Flyers’ Seasons Past.

Crutcher inherited the point guard position from Smith who, in four seasons at UD, had played in 138 games, scored 1,289 points, was part of four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and remains one of the more beloved Flyers.

Smith now plays for Canton in the NBA G League, but his presence at UD is still felt by the teenaged Crutcher, who scored 11 points and had seven assists and two steals against three turnovers in his game high 38. 4 minutes Friday night.

“How do you feel about always being measured against Scoochie?” Crutcher was asked.

He paused a moment, then shrugged, unlike Scrooge, he didn’t offer a dismissive “Bah! Humbug!”

“I know a lot of people try to compare me to Scoochie and that doesn’t bother me,” he said.

“He has texted me a couple of times though and when he comes down here to visit he talks to me. That’s cool.

“But with the comparisons, I’m not him…I’m my own player.”

Statistically, though, he’s ahead of Smith in every category at this point in his career.

As a freshman, Smith – playing behind Khari Price — started once and averaged 3.6 points, 2 assists and 17.3 minutes per game.

In his inaugural season, Crutcher bypassed junior John Crosby, started 22 games and averaged 11.7 points, 5.6 assists and 31.2 minutes per contest.

Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher drives against Mississippi States Aric Holman on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: columnist

Sophomore year Smith played 36 games, started 35 and averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 assists and 32.8 minutes.

So far in this 4-3 season for the Flyers, Crutcher has started all seven games and is averaging 13.1 points, 5.9 assists and 35.1 minutes.

But during his career, Smith became more and more of a leader and guided the Flyers to their winningest four-year span in history.

Crutcher is still a work in progress and that led to another of the three apparitions who would visit him on this night.

Late swoon

The Ghost of Present appeared as head coach Anthony Grant, with help from junior forward Ryan Mikesell.

They both assessed what Crutcher is doing for the team, which, after a 4-0 start and a big win over Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas 10 days ago, has now lost three straight close games to power conference teams: No. 4 Virginia, Oklahoma and No. 25 Mississippi State.

UD led most of Friday night’s game – 28.28 minutes to 6.51 – but the problem was MSU’s advantage came down the stretch.

Thanks to the play of three stellar guards – two-time All-Southeastern Conference second teamer Quinndary Weatherspoon , All-SEC Freshman Team last year Nick Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters, “one of the fastest guards I’ve ever played against in college,” said Mikesell — the Bulldogs outscored Dayton 21-7 in the final six minutes.

The Flyers have swooned in the closing minutes of their other losses, too, and Mikesell, who led UD with 15 points and seven rebounds, tried to put a finger the problem:

“The last four minutes of games seems to be a common theme. We’ve got to clean that up. I don’t know if it’s toughness or experience — we are a young team — but we’ve got to be able to close out games.”

Not an excuse, but the Flyers were hampered by some ailments Friday night.

Back-up guard and defensive specialist Jhery Matos has turf toe and may miss some extended time. Josh Cunningham, the team’s leading scorer and the most experienced Flyer, didn’t start and played about eight fewer minutes than usual because he was still weakened by food poisoning that kept him from practicing the first three days of the week.

As he spoke, you noticed a scar just above Mikesell’s nose, but he said that has nothing to do with the recent knocks the Flyers have taken.

“I was three years old and my brother dropped a metal bucket on my head.,” he said with a smile. “I don’t remember it.”

Crutcher was especially effective in the first half — especially when using a stutter-step or some crafty dribbling to throw his defender out of sync as he drove the lane — and that prompted a Grant assessment:

“I thought at times tonight he dominated the action out there, especially in the first half.

“Obviously he’s going to be the focal point of every scouting report. Tonight they really crowded him off the pick and roll and they put two on the ball and forced him to have to move back, so he got very few great looks.

“But he was able to free himself on a few occasions and I thought he ran the team well.”

Mikesell described Crutcher as “the head of the snake. He runs our offense and when you play with him you feel more comfortable out there. He’s a laid back guy and has a silent confidence.”

Crutcher’s dad, Greg – who came to the game with his wife, Sheila — said he’s really seen his son grow here at Dayton:

“He’s got a maturity now and the more he plays, the better he’ll get. But I wish he could be a little more aggressive at times. But that’s not his character.”

Regardless, Grant was pleased: “I thought he was solid tonight.”

Bright future

As for what’s ahead for Crutcher, everyone had an opinion.

“He’s still 19 years old…he’s still extremely young.” Grant said. “His best basketball…”

The coach didn’t finish the sentence, but did say Crutcher is “understanding the game” and learning more and more “how to run a team.”

“It’s going to be fun to see him grow,” Mikesell said. “It’ll be exciting the next couple of years.”

The real Ghost of the Future, though, had to be Crutcher’s outspoken cousin. Mike Broady, who made the drive with Jalen’s parents:

“He still ain’t done what we know he can do. Y’all still don’t know just what he can do. Nobody here’s seen it.”

That said, Jalen Crutcher – like Scrooge on his night of his visions — had seen quite a bit on this night.

Maybe more.

Scrooge never had to deal with a trio of guards like the Weatherspoon brothers and Peters.

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