Crutcher: Dayton analyzing failures in end-of-game situations

Nine of Dayton’s 12 losses came down to final minutes last season

Two Dayton Flyers have set their sights above winning the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship for the first time since 2017 and the A-10 tournament for the first time since 2003. Getting to the NCAA tournament and advancing — the stated goal for the program every season, according to UD Athletic Director Neil Sullivan — isn't even enough for Jalen Crutcher and Obi Toppin.

» PHOTOS: Crutcher through the years

Both players, the first two new recruits coach Anthony Grant landed after taking the job in 2017, mentioned the words “national championship” in interviews Tuesday at the Cronin Center. That’s a longshot for a program coming out of a conference that has never produced a NCAA champion in men’s basketball. In April, the Westgate Superbook gave Dayton 1000-1 odds of winning it all in 2020.

Long odds or not, this 2019-20 Flyers believe in themselves.

“I think our team this year we can definitely do it,” Crutcher said, “with all the pieces we’ve put together with the people that are returning.”

None of those players are more important than Crutcher because he runs the offense. Toppin earned most of the headlines last season as the breakout star who won the A-10 Rookie of the Year Award — he was the first UD player ever to do that — and earned all-conference first-team honors. It was the point guard Crutcher, however, who claimed the team MVP award at the postseason banquet in April.

» TREY LANDERS: Nothing less than a championship will sufficePhotos

Few players in Dayton history have compiled more experience in their first two years than Crutcher. The Ridgeway High School graduate from Memphis, Tenn., has appeared in all 64 games the last two seasons and started 54. He has averaged 33.9 minutes per game.

If Crutcher were to duplicate his scoring in his first two seasons, he would finish his career with 1,436 points, which would rank 23rd in school history, and 644 assists, which would rank second behind Negele Knight (663). His minutes-played average would rank fifth if it holds up.

Of course, Crutcher’s numbers — especially his minutes — could change because for the first time in his career, Dayton has talent up and down the roster. That’s a good thing. Crutcher could have fresher legs at the end of games this year. Dayton lost eight games by seven points or fewer last season, and nine of its 12 losses were decided in the final four minutes.

The Flyers have worked this summer on analyzing those games, reviewing the end of games on film. It’s not always a fun experience.

“Watching it, you get kind of mad,” Crutcher said, “but you always learn from it.”

» RYAN MIKESELL: Soaking in final yearPhotos

One game Dayton analyzed earlier this month was the 65-58 loss to Mississippi State on Nov. 30 at UD Arena. Dayton led 51-44 with under six minutes to play against a team that would finish 23-11 and make the NCAA tournament and gave up a 21-7 run to end the game.

Crutcher wouldn’t blame tired legs for that type of performance, though he played 39 of 40 minutes in the game.

“In the Mississippi State game, at the end of the game, it seemed like we weren’t locked in,” Crutcher said. “You could see it on film. When we were on offense, you could see how their defense was much more ready to play, slapping the floor and stuff like that. When we went back on defense, we were lazy. We weren’t ready to play defense.”

Defense has been the focus in summer practices, just as it was last year. Dayton jumped from 238th in defensive efficiency in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season to 103rd last season. The Flyers will need to make another major jump in that area. It starts with the team’s attitude in practice, and Crutcher has seen good signs.

“When we get on the court, nobody’s friends,” he said. “We always get to arguing. It’s a good thing.”

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