Jalen Crutcher stepped to the free-throw line six times in the final 15 seconds Saturday, taking advantage of George Mason coach Dave Paulsen’s meltdown.
Crutcher made five of the free throws as he helped clinch a 74-65 victory at UD Arena. His teammates watched from the half-court line as he shot the technical free throws, and Crutcher slapped hands with imaginary teammates — something he’s done for years now — on each side of the lane just to keep his routine going.
Paulsen was ejected after the second technical foul. The Patriots likely would have lost anyway, but his argument with the officials helped Dayton breathe a little easier in the final moments, something it hadn’t been able to do all season.
Five of Dayton’s first six games were decided by three points or fewer. This was the second game that didn’t come down to the final shot.
“It felt weird at the end not having to worry about the last shot going in,” Dayton guard Ibi Watson said. “It speaks to the way everyone stepped up.”
Watson scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, making 4 of 5 3-pointers, but it was Crutcher who had the starring role in this game. Dayton’s senior point guard scored 12 points in the first 12 minutes and seven in the last 90 seconds. He also had three key assists in the final five minutes on baskets by Mustapha Amzil, Jordy Tshimanga and Watson. All three were go-ahead scores.
Crutcher finished with a career-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting and played all 40 minutes. He knew he had to play a more aggressive role because Rodney Chatman, who started every game last season and the first five games this season, was sidelined by a hand injury, which he suffered Wednesday in a 67-65 loss to La Salle. Two other reserves, Elijah Weaver and R.J. Blakney, remained out with undisclosed injuries.
“My teammates had faith in me,” Crutcher said. “They told me to get open and get the ball.”
“Jalen is a really good player, man,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “He’s done that his whole career. Tonight he knew we needed him to be that leader for us if we were going to be able to get the win. He did a good job of making plays throughout the entire game for himself and his teammates.”
Dayton (5-2, 1-1) played with seven available scholarship players. Three of those players were freshmen. Mustapha Amzil scored 15 points in his second game. Koby Brea earned his first career start, replacing Chatman. Zimi Nwokeji scored the first seven points of his career and made two important 3-pointers in the second half, the first of which ended a 15-0 run by George Mason. The Patriots erased a 12-point deficit and led by as many as five points twice in the second half.
Crutcher said Dayton took the loss to La Salle personally, and that extra motivation paid off as Dayton avoided its first 0-2 start in conference play since 2013.
“I’m just proud of the effort we got from the whole group today,” Grant said. “It was great to see our guys be able to come together.”
NOTES: Virginia Commonwealth became the second Atlantic 10 Conference team to pause team activities in recent days because of COVID-19 issues, cancelling a game Saturday against Davidson. Saint Louis postponed games against Duquesne and Massachusetts because of positive COVID-19 tests. ... Dayton plays its next two games on the road. It plays at Fordham at 6 p.m. Tuesday. That game will be televised on ESPN+. It then plays at Davidson (5-4, 1-1) at 9 p.m. Friday on ESPN2.
Dayton at Fordham, 6 p.m., ESPN+, 1290, 95.7
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