“At some point we have to stop repeating the same thing over and over again.”
He wasn’t just talking about the mounting losses — the Flyers are 7-8 now — but how the team keeps losing.
Several times in this unbalanced season the Flyers have come out of the halftime dressing room flat, fallen behind or in some cases further back than they had been, and then never been able to fully recover.
This team just isn’t good enough to do that.
As Grant noted, “We just don’t have a margin of error not to show up for 40 minutes with focus, energy and effort.”
The Flyers faltered at the start of the second half against Old Dominion, Mississippi State and St, Mary’s, all games away from the supportive confines of UD Arena, all games they lost.
This time the swoon, in front of a supportive home crowd of 12,654, actually began in the final minutes of the first half and then escalated well into the second half.
What made it more surprising was that the Flyers were coming off their best effort of the season three days earlier — an 82-72 throttling of a strong St. Bonaventure team here. And last Saturday the Bonnies had run roughshod over UMass, winning by 20.
The Minutemen looked even more vulnerable this Saturday after coach Matt McCall had suspended two starters, 6-foot-6 C.J. Anderson and 6-11 junior shot blocker Rashaan Holloway
Early on, the Flyers looked as if they’d roll over UMass, which had six scholarship players in uniform. UD led by 11 midway through the first half and was still up 30-20 with 3:22 left before intermission.
Then the first signs of on-court insanity — three missed shots, two turnovers and a foul — showed up and by halftime the Dayton lead was five.
A sullen halftime
“Everybody was quiet in the locker room at halftime,” freshman point guard Jalen Crutcher said. “Everybody had their head down.”
Junior forward Xeyrius Williams saw the same thing:
“It’s usually a lot more talkative and energetic at halftime but this time it was quiet. Me and Trey (Landers) and Coach Grant came in and tried to get some positive vibes going, but it was down in there.
“And I don’t know why. Yeah, they had cut an 11-point lead, but we were still up and we had another half. You got to look at that as a second chance.”
Grant said that, as well:
“We had the opportunity in the second half to flush what happened at the end of the first half and come out and show a toughness and a maturity that we needed.
“As a team the dialogue had been, ‘We can play harder. We can rebound better. We can communicate more.’ ”
But at the start of the second half none of that happened.
“I want to say, in our first two possessions, we turned the ball over,” Grant said.
The Flyers also missed their first three shots and fouled once and soon UMass had the lead.
After the game McCall — who, like Grant, was on the staff of Florida’s national championship team, is a good friend of the Dayton coach and said Saturday felt like he was “playing against your dad” — commended his team for its resilience, its fight and especially the way it was “extremely connected” and how the guys “played for each other.”
The Flyers showed little of that in the second half until the final six minutes. And they found themselves trailing by two when UMass turned over the ball on a close play that officials reviewed on the courtside monitor.
During the break in the action, the Flyers huddled and decided on a final play.
“The first option was to go inside to Josh (Cunningham),” Grant said. “I’ll have to go back to look at it and see if that was an option. The second option was to go to Darrell (Davis) up top. But I think we didn’t run the action at the pace we need to. I wanted the shot to happen quicker.”
The inbounds pass went to Crutcher, who passed to Cunningham on the wing. He passed right back and Crutcher then passed to Landers. The ball ended up in Davis’ hands with a few seconds left and he drove, took an off-balance shot and missed at the buzzer.
For McCall this was the second time he’s come into UD Arena and upset the Flyers. In December 2015, when he was coach of Tennessee-Chattanooga, his Mocs toppled Archie Miller’s team 61-59, snapping a 26-game home winning streak for the Flyers.
After Saturday’s game, McCall had nothing but praise for Grant: “He’s about as high a character individual as there is in college basketball. He’s gonna have this program through the roof in no time.”
He was just as high on Crutcher, whom he had signed to a scholarship at Chattanooga before he took the UMass job. Crutcher then decommitted and was picked up by Grant.
“He’s gonna have a great career here,” McCall said. “He’s playing in one of the best environments in college basketball, and playing for Coach Grant, he’s going to be a great player. I can’t believe we’ll play against him the next four years in the Atlantic 10. It’s gonna be a real headache.”
That all might be so, but right now the only ones with headaches are the Flyers.
“It’s hard right now as a coach to figure out which buttons need to be pushed,” Grant said.
So does that require a psychiatrist or a coach?
“I got to figure that out,” Grant said quietly. “Right now I’ve got to be both.”