Jalen Crutcher arrived at the post-game interviews Sunday with sparkling earrings. He confirmed they weren’t real diamonds and he wasn’t wearing them in the game. He threw them on fast in the locker room on the advice of teammate Trey Landers.
“Y’all be interviewing me,” Crutcher said with a laugh, “so Trey told me I have to look good.”
Crutcher looked even better minutes early with his game and growing clutch gene providing the flash. His 3-pointer with 70 seconds to play broke a tie and carried the Dayton Flyers to a 72-67 victory against Massachusetts at UD Arena.
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Dayton (11-5, 3-0) extended its season-best winning streak to six games and kept pace with Saint Louis (12-4, 3-0) and Davidson (12-4, 3-0) atop the Atlantic 10 Conference one sixth away into the league schedule.
The Flyers have defeated three teams on the wrong side of .500 — Richmond (7-9, 1-2), George Washington (5-11, 1-2) and UMass (7-9, 0-3) — and now have to prove themselves against one of the best teams in the A-10. They play Virginia Commonwealth (11-5, 2-1) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. A road game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Bonaventure (6-10, 2-1) follows.
“This week is a challenging week,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said Sunday. “Three games this week. Right now, it’s just a matter of taking this in and taking the lessons we can learn from this and then very quickly turning it around and going on the road and playing a team in VCU that’s playing really well right now. They’re a very good challenge. Our team, we’ll be ready for it.”
Here are three questions that will be answered Wednesday:
1. Will this be another classic matchup?
The Flyers and Rams played three memorable games in 2018, the first season for Grant at Dayton and Mike Rhoades at VCU.
The Flyers won the first one 106-79 at UD Arena on Jan. 12, setting school records for points in a half (66) and made 3-pointers (17). The Rams gained revenge with an 88-84 overtime victory on Feb. 10, spoiling Dayton’s 15-point comeback in the final 3:30 of the second half and a last-second, game-tying basket by Josh Cunningham.
Then VCU won the rubber match. A 12-2 run in the final three minutes carried it to a 77-72 victory in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Jonathan Williams hit the go-ahead basket with 56 seconds to play.
“You look at the A-10 over the last several years, you’re talking about teams in ourselves and VCU that have been there competing for championships,” Grant said. “They’ve got a really good team, a very well-coached team. They’ve got a building that will be excited. It will be a challenging building to play in. It’ll be a great environment. It should make for a great game.”
2. Can a strong offense best a strong defense?
Dayton ranks second in the A-10 in scoring (74.9 points per game) and first in field-goal percentage (50.8). VCU ranks 11th in scoring (69.1) and 10th in field-goal percentage (41.8).
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The numbers go the opposite way on defense. VCU ranks second in scoring defense (62.8) and first in field-goal percentage defense (37.5), while Dayton’s defense ranks seventh in both (67.6 points per game and 42.1 percent).
“To be a championship-level team, you have to have championship-level defense,” Rhoades told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
3. How does Dayton get Obi Toppin back on track?
The Dayton forward has played so well most of the season it’s easy to forget this is his first season on the court in college basketball. In the last two games, he has scored seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. The slump comes after he topped 50 percent shooting in each of the first 14 games.
Toppin showed off strong passing skills with four assists Sunday and also added three steals, but he committed a crucial turnover that led to a tie-breaking, fast-break layup by Luwane Pipkins with 3:07 to go.
“He was a little bit disappointed in himself down the stretch,” Grant said, “but that’s a part of growth. That’s just a part of college basketball. Like I say all the time, every experience for these guys, it’s the first time they’ve been through this. It wasn’t one of his best days today, but Obi’s a guy … it means a lot to him. He doesn’t want to let anybody down. We’ll take the good and the bad, like we always do, and try to learn from it and make it better for the next game.”