As he had been talking about his seniors — especially Jalen Crutcher who led the way with a game-high 19 points — Grant suddenly had been asked about his own Senior Night experience as a Flyer 34 years ago.
And that brought to mind the one sore spot on his otherwise wondrous resume from four years as a Flyers player.
On March 7, 1987, his Dayton team lost its Senior Night outing to Notre Dame, 62-56, in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,511 at UD Arena.
It would be his last game ever as a Flyer. The team had lost six of its final nine games, finished 13-15 and for the first time in his four years would not play in the postseason.
“I still remember it,” Grant said. “It was not a good feeling. Of all the great memories I have playing at Dayton, that one stands out to me.
“I remember walking off the court. I remember being in the locker room, what that felt like when I wasn’t going to be able to put that uniform on again in front of the Dayton fans.
“I couldn’t tell you if I played well that night or I played poorly. I don’t remember. But I do remember we didn’t win that game.”
For all his great UD moments — going to the NCAA Tournament twice, once on a magical run to the Elite Eight, making the NIT field and being the Flyers leading scorer, rebounder and team captain as a senior — that one loss sticks in Grant’s craw.
And that it came against Notre Dame, then UD’s big rival, made it “even worse” he said.
He admitted that may be why it’s so important for his teams now to win on Senior Night. And, by the way, all four of them have since he took over the program four years ago.
In the final minutes Friday night, Grant pulled one senior off the court after another, first Jordy Tshimanga, then Rodney Chatman and Ibi Watson.
The final substitution had special significance. He sent 5-foot-6 senior walk-on Cam Greer into the game for Crutcher, whom he then hugged warmly when he got to the bench.
There is a special bond between those two. Each has lifted the other here.
Crutcher — the 6-foot-1 guard out of Memphis — was Grant’s first recruit. He signed late, in May of his senior year, after decommitting from Tennessee Chattanooga when the coach who recruited him left for another job before he ever got there.
When Grant took over, he faced an immediate need at point guard. Scoochie Smith had graduated and McKinley Wright, who had been recruited by former coach Archie Miler, decommitted just as Crutcher had done because of the coaching change.
Crutcher and Grant believed in each other and became the cornerstones of a new program that reached such magnificent heights last year.
“Coach Grant has been great,” Crutcher said after Friday’s game. “Everybody here he loves. He makes sure everybody is in the right position to succeed on and off the court.”
Grant tossed the 18-year-old Crutcher into the fire in just the seventh game of the freshman guard’s career when he started him at point against a guard-laden Mississippi State team down in Starkville. The Memphis kid responded by hitting his first two 3-point attempts to give Dayton the quick advantage.
The Bulldogs would roar back to take a whopping 21-point lead, but Crutcher stayed the course and ended up pacing Dayton with 18 points and the Flyers lost by just two.
That night Crutcher had some 35 fans from Memphis at the game. That throng — almost all wearing shirts that bore his name — included his proud parents, Greg and Sheila Crutcher, and his loquacious cousin, Michael “Cuz Mike” Broady, the owner of the Mo’Hair Mo’ Kutz salon on Mendenhall Road in Memphis.
I remember Broady standing there telling me this was nothing. It was just the tip of the iceberg: “Before he’s done, Jalen’s gonna give you and all those Dayton fans something to really remember!”
No truer words were ever spoken.
Crutcher has started 113 games and was the prime orchestrator of UD’s magical 29-2 season last year.
While his best friend and old roommate, Obi Toppin, got the greatest accolades and became a regular on ESPN’s Top Plays of the Day, much of that success came thanks to Crutcher, who fed him the alley-oop passes and drew defenders away when he came slashing through the lane.
This season Crutcher is on several of the national watch lists for awards that honor the college game’s best players. He’s also cementing himself in the Dayton record books.
He now has 1,529 career points, 17th on the list of UD’s all-time top scorers. He’s near the leaders in several other categories, as well.
Some of his best games have come against St. Louis.
Last season he gave UD the lead three times in overtime against the host Billikens. His final shot, a 22 footer with .01 left, gave Dayton the two-point win.
He had 21 points in that game and when he returned there this season he scored 27 in another victory.
“I view him as the best point guard in the country,” said Watson, who added 14 points Friday. “To have a guy like that – a big time scorer, a big time passer, a big time playmaker – makes my job easy. Playing with him is great.”
Grant was just as complimentary.
“Just to hear his family talk about him before the game (on a scoreboard video) and to know how his teammates and the staff and everybody associated with the program feels about him, there’s a real pride.
“There’s that pride everybody has for the way he represents our program, the university and the community.”
Because of that Grant wanted Crutcher and the other seniors to get something he did not as player here:
“And all of a sudden your senior year is here and your last game is here and Man, you want that memory to be a good one.”