Mississippi State coach on Flyers: ‘They know how to win close games’

Crutcher’s big game one reason Dayton prevailed Saturday

Credit: ©Scott Cunningham

Credit: ©Scott Cunningham

Dayton Flyers guard Jalen Crutcher had just played 50 minutes in a game for the first time in his life, and he was tired. He had no problem admitting that in a phone interview Saturday after an 85-82 double-overtime victory against Mississippi State in Atlanta.

Crutcher wasn’t surprised he never left the court at State Farm Arena. He played all 40 minutes of regulation and remained in the game for each of the five-minute overtime periods.

“I knew that I probably wasn’t going to come out,” Crutcher said.

Although Crutcher fell far short of the Dayton record for minutes played in a game, he became the first Dayton player in this century to play 50 minutes.

Kevin Conrad and Mike Kanieski both played 62 minutes in a five-overtime game against Providence in 1982.

This was Dayton’s 10th double-overtime game since 2000. Jordan Davis is the only player who has come close to playing every minute. He recorded 49 minutes in an 86-82 double-overtime loss at Massachusetts in 2018. Crutcher played 40 minutes in that game, and two seasons ago when Dayton won 89-86 at St. Bonaventure in its last double-overtime game, Crutcher played 41 minutes.

Dayton needed every minute Saturday from Crutcher, who scored 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting with four assists and six turnovers. He made 3 of 8 3-pointers, impressing Mississippi State coach Ben Howland with his range.

“I give them credit,” Howland said. “I’m not kidding you, tonight Crutcher, all three of his 3s were 24 to 27 feet out. They were big-time NBA 3s. Guy’s a really good player. He’s an absolute stud. And you can see why that team went 29-2 last season. They know how to win close games.”

Crutcher wasn’t the only reason Dayton improved to 3-1. Here are three more:

1. Ibi Watson’s big shots: Watson missed his first four shots but then made 5 of 8, finishing with 21 points. He also made 8 of 9 free throws, including two with five seconds left in the second half that would have won the game if Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar hadn’t scored the tying basket at the buzzer.

Watson’s two biggest field goals came in the second overtime: a 3-pointer to tie the game with 2:47 to play and a jump shot that gave Dayton an 81-78 lead with 32 seconds remaining.

That latter shot came after Watson dribbled from the 3-point line down the left side of the paint with all his teammates watching from behind the 3-point line except Jordy Tshimanga. He floated the jump shot to his right over two defenders as his body drifted through the air the opposite way. It was a difficult shot, to say the least.

“I’m confident in the shots I get when I get open looks,” said Watson, who leads Dayton with 19.8 points per game. “Coach (Anthony) Grant drew up a great play. Everyone did their job.”

2. R.J. Blakney’s moment: The freshman has turned into Dayton’s top sixth man. After playing a total of eight minutes in the first two games, he has played 49 minutes the last two games.

Blakney played nine minutes in the first half, 11 minutes in the second half and all but one minute in the overtime period. He replaced Rodney Chatman, who fouled out a minute into the first overtime after playing his best game of the season (15 points on 6-of-9 shooting), and then didn’t leave the court.

Blakney missed his first 3-point attempt with 1:18 to go in the second half and Dayton leading 62-59. One of the ESPNU announcers said Dayton probably didn’t want the freshman taking a shot in that moment.

However, Blakney got another chance in the first overtime. Watson dribbled down the lane and, when three defenders converged on him, passed to a wide-open Blakney in the corner. Blakney didn’t hesitate and made the game-tying shot with 16 seconds to play.

“R.J.’s going to be really good,” Crutcher said. “I love how he plays. He has no fear when he gets on the court. He’s been like that since day one.”

Credit: ©Scott Cunningham

Credit: ©Scott Cunningham

3. Mississippi State’s free-throw woes: While Dayton is shooting 75.3 percent at the line, which would be its best mark since 2012 (77.7), its opponents are shooting 58.1 percent. That’s the eighth-worst mark in the country for a group of opponents.

Mississippi State had been hot and cold from the line. It made 8 of 27 in a season-opening loss to Clemson but then shot better than 72 percent in three straight games. It made 20 of 33 in a victory against Jackson State and then 9 of 22 against Dayton.

“We lost to a very good team,” Howland said. “It’s really gut-wrenching to lose while shooting 9 of 22 at the foul line. We’ve been doing a good job from the foul line since the first game when we were horrible and again today it came back and bit us. We shoot a lot of foul shots every day in practice. There were three of them that were front ends of 1 and 1.”

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