There’s Mo’Kutz and then there is the perfect cut.
This is the story of Cuz Mike and “The Water Boy.”
One was in the stands last Friday night when the Dayton Flyers edged St. Louis, 78-76, in overtime at sold out Chaifetz Arena.
The other is the reason the Flyers won.
“I used to come to his high school games and the first thing I’d yell was, ‘Hey water boy!’” laughed Michael Broady. “He’d turn around and say, ‘Hey, wassup Cuz?’”
Broady is the cousin of Flyers’ junior guard Jalen Crutcher and the owner of the Mo’Hair Mo’Kutz Salon on Mendenhall Road in Memphis, Crutcher’s hometown.
“I’d tease him and say, ‘You ain’t earned your name yet. You’re still the water boy,’” Broady said. “’You ain’t showed what you really can do.’’’
By the end of Crutcher’s career at Ridgeway High School, Broady had set the jibe aside. But he revived it again when his cousin first got to UD and took over the starting point guard positon seven games into his freshman season.
“He was nervous at the start, that’s why his shot wouldn’t drop.” said Broady, who comes to the Flyers games with Crutcher’s parents, Greg and Sheila, and others. “But I dropped the name a couple of years ago. He’s not the water boy no more.”
Friday night that was never more evident.
Three times in the final minute of overtime Crutcher lifted Dayton into the lead over the Billikens.
He made two free throws with 49 seconds left and when St Louis retook the lead, he hit two more with 17 seconds left.
With just six seconds left – as the Billikens’ Yuri Collins was making two free throws to again put St. Louis on top — UD coach Anthony Grant called Crutcher to the sideline.
“He just said, get a high screen from Obi and make a play,” Crutcher recalled.
As he headed back onto the court, Crutcher said he sought a little heavenly help:
“I said a prayer: ‘I can do all things through Christ.’ My mom and dad always tell me to say that prayer.”
He then took the inbounds pass and quickly brought the ball across midcourt as the 6-foot-9 Toppin drifted up and set a perfect screen on Demarius Jacobs.
“The dude wasn’t looking and when he got hit, he was surprised,” Toppin explained.
“He got clipped a little bit and got off balance,“ said Crutcher, who then made the perfect cut to his left and decided to take the shot himself rather than dump the ball off to Toppin or drive the lane in hopes of being fouled.
“I knew we were on the road and we probably wouldn’t get the foul call,” Crutcher said “At the end of a game it’s hard for the referee to (blow) the whistle.”
Broady agreed: “It was 3 on 1. We was playing the team and the crowd and the referees.”
UD guard Ibi Watson – who’s the best three-point shooter on the team – said he had supreme confidence in Crutcher at that moment:
“You just gotta believe in yourself and understand you put the work in. You’ve already made thousands of them before, it’s just another shot. And he makes them all the time. I was really comfortable with him shooting that shot. I kind of had a feeling of relaxation.”
With one second left, Crutcher launched his winning, 22-foot shot from beyond the top of the key.
Once it was good, he looked up at the Billikens crowd – standing and roaring in sudden disbelief – and said he had just one word for them:
His teammates soon mobbed him and finally Toppin, as he explained Monday, gave him a lengthy embrace:
“I just gave him a big hug and told him I loved him.”
In the visitor’s locker room, as the players celebrated, even the staid Grant offered a few dance moves.
“I don’t know what that was,” Crutcher grinned. “That was…Old School.”
Up in the stands Broady said the 15 people there from Memphis “went crazy. His momma’s phone was just blowing up. Everybody from Memphis was texting.
“Back home, they look at Jalen Crutcher like they look at Michael Jordan.”
‘He loves pressure’
After he decommitted from Tennessee-Chattanooga — when Coach Matt McCall jumped to the Massachusetts job – Crutcher landed at UD in May of his senior year because Grant, who’d just taken over the job, needed a point guard at the last minute.
When coach Archie Miller left for Indiana, his recruit McKinley Wright parted ways with UD, too.
Crutcher played behind junior John Crosby for six games and then was thrust into the starter’s role.
The Flyers season was a roller coaster, in part, because a couple of older players didn’t buy into Grant’s new system and team ended up 14-17.
“Jalen kind of got thrown into the fire as a freshman and had to step into a major role,” Grant said. “The team was going through some growing pains, but he handled everything thrown at him and has just gotten better and better. No moment is too big for him.”
Broady said he wasn’t surprised:
“I told Coach Grant right from the start, ‘Jalen never cracks under the pressure. He loves pressure.’ I’ve been seeing that his whole career, way back to grade school.
“With the clock winding down, with just two or three seconds left, he always steps up. I’ve seen him snatch the ball right out of a (panicking) teammate’s hands and pop a 3!”
By last season — as Crutcher’s numbers kept going up — Broady said he dropped the Water Boy reference.
This year, Crutcher is shooting better than ever from the floor and the free throw line and leads the team in minutes played and assists and is second in scoring (13.1 points per game).
He was just named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week after scoring 20 points in a victory over VCU and three nights later getting 21 against St. Louis.
His overtime game-winner against the Billikens is the biggest shot the Flyers have had in this magical 16-2 season. It kept them unbeaten in the Atlantic 10 (5-0) and pushed them to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, the highest national ranking for the Flyers in 53 years.
It’s one reason Crutcher will certainly be a crowd favorite tonight when the Flyers host St Bonaventure.
“I love Dayton’s arena and how the fans cheer the team,” Broady said. “They love those kids like they’re NBA stars.”
‘I felt we could be a top 10 team’
“He’s famous on campus now,” Toppin said of Crutcher.
“Everybody’s coming up to him asking to take pictures with him. We went out eat the other night on Brown Street and everybody was acknowledging us.”
From the start of the season, Watson — who transferred in from Michigan where he was on the Wolverines team that made it to the national title game two years ago — sensed this would be a special year for Flyers:
“As crazy as it may sound, I felt we could be a top 10 team.
“And the other night after the St. Louis game, it was me, Jalen and Trey (Landers) sitting in the room. We were talking about this team having so many pieces – so many guys who can really do a lot of different things – and I said it reminded me of the one I was on that played in the national championship game. We’re very similar to what we had at Michigan.”
He said when the Wolverines won the Big 10 that year, he got a championship ring. For making the Final Four he got another ring and a watch.
“They’ve never been out of the box,” he said. “I’ve never worn them. I’m hoping I get something to match them in Dayton.”
And just as the Flyers players have something to look forward to, so do UD fans, said Broady.
“Jalen STILL ain’t showed you all he can do. Listen to me, before Jalen Crutcher leaves the University of Dayton, he’s gonna shock y’all. I promise it.”
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