Dayton Flyers veterans stepping up as leaders

Ibi Watson interview (Jan. 11, 2021)

Players-only huddle late in Davidson game pays dividends in road victory

The Dayton Flyers held a players-only huddle during the final TV timeout with under four minutes to play Friday at Davidson.

Redshirt freshman Zimi Nwokeji listened to what the senior leaders were saying and soaked in the knowledge. He’s tried to be a sponge since he arrived on campus a year ago.

“Coach (Anthony) Grant didn’t even have to say a word,” Nwokeji said. “We were just all in the huddle, and all you hear is words from Jalen (Crutcher) and Ibi (Watson). It was the last four-minute war. Let’s pull it out.”

This was Dayton’s ninth game. They’ve all been close in the final minutes. Five of the first eight were decided on the final possession. According KenPom.com, which uses fancy math to rank the best games of the season, Dayton has played three games that rank among the top 70 in the nation in excitement. The Flyers have grown used to the tension, though they faltered in the final minute of the previous game and lost 55-54 at Fordham.

“The more experience you get, the more confident you are in those situations,” Grant said. “The last four minutes of the game, the guys were really engaged. They understood the situation and what needed to happen. They made a hell of a shot to send it to overtime. That takes some of the steam out of you, but our guys were able to pull it out in overtime.”

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After the game-tying 3-pointer by Davidson star Kellan Grady with 3 seconds left sent the game to the extra period, Dayton outscored Davidson 17-6 in overtime, ending the game on an 8-0 run to win 89-78. It was the first double-digit victory of the season for Dayton even though the score masked how close the game was for the first 43 minutes.

That discussion in the huddle with under four minutes remaining in the second half, at which point Dayton led 65-61, did not lead to an immediate victory thanks to the shot by Grady, but Grant said it was great to see the leadership. Players-only huddles are not common.

“Our veteran guys understood the situation,” Grant said, “and what we needed just in terms of what to do on the defensive end, being able to get stops and rebound the ball and those type of things.”

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Watson said Grant sat down and listened to what the players were saying among themselves.

“It was definitely unusual for us to do it by ourselves,” Watson said. “It speaks to having some veterans who know what they’re doing.”

This is the second straight season Dayton decided not to elect official captains. The thinking last season was it was a veteran group with plenty of leaders, and official titles weren’t needed. This season, Dayton has a roster that ranks 64th in the country in experience, though four of the eight players who saw action Friday had not played college basketball before this season.

Watson has tried to step up as a leader since Chase Johnson left the team and Rodney Chatman underwent hand surgery.

“Those are two guys who are older and have been around basketball for a while,” Watson said. “Rod is a guy who was a really big leader. He’s vocal and shows it. Being a louder voice is all I can do right now.”

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