Grant on Dayton’s season: ‘This group went through a lot’

Flyers’ 14-10 season ended with first-round NIT loss to Memphis

In a season full of Zoom press conferences, Dayton Flyers coach Anthony Grant faced one final question March 20 after a 71-60 loss to Memphis in the National Invitational Tournament.

Grant was asked to sum up what his team accomplished in a season like no other, and he then spoke for almost three minutes on the topic.

“This group went through a lot,” Grant said. “I just told them (after the game), I had a chance during that week when we weren’t sure whether our season was going to continue to sit back and reflect on what happened.”

Grant then rehashed the many setbacks his team had on the way to a 14-10 record. He doesn’t like discussing injuries much during the season and keeps that news close to the vest but used this opportunity to revisit his players’ ailments without getting into too many specifics.

• Koby Brea missed six straight weeks with an injury in the preseason.

• Zimi Nwokeji was out for two weeks at one point before the season.

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• Rodney Chatman missed about 10 straight days just before the start of the season, returned to start the first six games but suffered a hand injury and missed 11 games. He suffered a sprained knee in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament loss to Virginia Commonwealth and was on crutches when the team played Memphis.

• R.J. Blakney was also out for the game because of a calf issue and wouldn’t have played again this season.

• Jalen Crutcher had bumps and bruises along the way, as did Ibi Watson, though neither missed any games.

• Jordy Tshimanga was also banged up at the end of the season and didn’t play in the last 14 minutes against Memphis.

“Physically, man he gave us everything he had,” Grant said. “At the end of the game there, he just wasn’t physically able to go out there and do what he needed to do. He may have to have some stuff done at the end of the year.”

• Grant also mentioned Chase Johnson, who started for Dayton in the five non-conference games but left the program in late December.

• Then there was freshman Mustapha Amzil, who joined the roster in mid-December and made his debut Dec. 30 after two days of practice with the rest of the Flyers. Grant mentioned the challenges he had in acclimating to a new team in the middle of a season.

“This team had to persevere,” Grant said. “They had to go through a lot.”

Even considering that, few would dispute that this was a disappointing season for a group that returned four seniors from a historic 29-2 team. Dayton never contended for the A-10 regular-season championship. After a decent performance in non-conference play with victories against Mississippi and Mississippi State in back-to-back games, it fell out of the NCAA tournament picture with losses to La Salle and Fordham in the first three games of the conference schedule.

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The Flyers lost three games to Virginia Commonwealth and weren’t competitive in two of them. They were dominated by Duquesne, though a late run made the final score respectable. They blew an 18-point lead and lost at Rhode Island. They earned a NIT berth only because a number of teams turned down bids.

There were good moments, too: two victories over Saint Louis; a road win at St. Bonaventure in the last game of the regularseason; and the first A-10 tournament victory in four years.

Considering the circumstances involved with playing a season during a pandemic, Grant was proud of his team.

“One thing they did is throughout the year they stayed together,” Grant said. “They enjoyed each other. They believed in each other. They believed in our staff. They tried their best to make sure every night they went out and represented themselves, their families, our program, this university, our community in the best way they could. You don’t always get the results you want. We would like to have had some different results from individual games, but that’s basketball. That’s sports. It is what it is. We’ll learn from it. We’ll continue to grow and get better.”

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