Late game situations have always been a bugaboo for Anthony Grant. When the shit hits the fan AG is equal parts flummoxed, stoic and distant. The three closest games last season were against Kansas, Colorado and Saint Louis. The first two ended in painful losses, the road contest at Saint Louis was won on a buzzer-beating three by Jalen Crutcher. In 2019-20, the Flyers outscored their competition by an average of 15.5 points. Your high school gym teacher could have coached last year’s UD squad, the Bike shorts alone would have been worth around a five-point advantage (And if he is texting with a 16 year-old girl, so much the better. You have to take risks to win big sometimes.).
This year will be different. Without an elite offense, Dayton will, as they already have this season, have to eek out victories that come down to the wire (if not the final possession). Dayton has been extremely fortunate, grinding out three wins, just one loss, in late-game situations so far this year. While the results have been positive, the manner in which they’ve unfolded have left many observers scratching their heads in wonder.
Dayton doesn’t seem to have any semblance of a game plan when it comes to defending in tight games coming down to the wire. Or perhaps they do have a strategy for defending the final possession and it is just mind-numbingly ineffective? One of these assumptions is correct, and I’m not entirely sure which is worse.
Want some proof? Let’s break the four games down Zapruder style.
Reset: Dayton is up 64-63, EIU has fouled Jalen Crutcher with 12.5 seconds on the clock. The Flyers have no timeouts left.
:15 — AG pulls down his mask and informs the team, “No threes.” (Spoiler alert-EIU gets off a three)
:18 — Assistant Coach Darren Hertz leans over to AG, likely gauging the head man’s interest in fouling if Crutcher converts the second foul-shot. Grant seems perplexed, indicated by a slight shrug of his hands.
:27 — Jalen Crutcher, aware of the situation, makes a hand motion, indicating that he will pickup EIU guard Mack Smith (#3), the Panthers top three-point shooter, who is 3-for-3 from behind the arc on the day.
:37 to :56 — Crutcher coolly rolls in the freebie and Dayton, as you will notice, does not pressure the inbounds pass. EIU’s best player, Josiah Wallace (who, to be fair, had an off night shooting), calmly pushes the ball up the floor, has the time to call a quick play (which appears to be a quick slip screen that would have resulted in a quick toss to Smith at the top of the key. Dayton stifles the pass and Wallace is forced to take a contested three which bounces harmlessly off the rim. Dayton escapes, 66-63.
Reset: UD is down 64-61. There are 16.7 seconds left on the clock. Dayton has one timeout remaining, SMU has two.
:00 to :17 — Dayton inbounds the ball to Chatman, Chatman drops it off to Dirt Road, who is drifting off a screen set for Chatman. Johnson flips it to a flaring Crutcher, and then proceeds to set a hard screen for Ibi Watson. Sleepy Watson catches the ball right in front of the bench and drains the three-pointer with around seven seconds left in the ballgame.
:18 to :26 — Utter confusion. Dayton players are pointing all over the floor to matchup correctly, Assistant Coach Anthony Solomon appears to look back to AG in despair while the Head Coach puts his palm up like, “Hey, we good, we good.”
This is a tricky situation for both coaches. On one hand, UD can call a quick timeout to set up their defense and ensure everyone is on the same page. On the flip side, SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich has the option of calling a TO as well. SMU even has the option of quickly calling another timeout after seeing what defense the Flyers come out of after the break (or possibly getting the ball quickly over half-court before calling their last timeout). Instead, both coaches go riverboat gamblin’ — let the kids play!
:27 to :33 — The announcer utters, “Full-court pressure from Dayton…and then they back off.” During this interlude, it appears that Rodney Chatman briefly considered switching onto the ballhandler, Emmanuel Bandoumel, but opted to continue marking Kendric Davis, the Mustangs’ best offensive threat. It’s difficult to tell if this tiny defensive indecision caught Ibi Watson flat-footed or not, but nevertheless Bandoumel goes unimpeded into the paint, tossing up a floater that miraculously drops through the hoop. SMU wins at the buzzer (ok, they put .2 seconds back on the clock), 66-64.
Reset: The score is tied at 62 in the second half, five seconds remain on the clock. Ibi Watson is on the line to shoot two after being fouled following a seemingly back-breaking turnover by Mississippi State. Dayton has THREE timeouts, the Bulldogs have none.
:00 to :33 — Sleepy converts both free throws to push the margin to 64-62 in favor of the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Anthony Grant pulls all of his guys off the line, essentially setting up a prevent defense for the Bulldogs to maneuver through. No timeout from Coach Grant, after either Watson made free-throw, his decision has been made.
:34 to :43 — Speedy MSU guard Iverson Molinar takes the inbound pass unhindered, races up the court around token pressure (Crutcher appears to escort him to the hoop), ducks under Jordy Chimichanga (perhaps after four steps) and deftly lays it off the glass to take the game to overtime. Ibi Watson has major WTF energy at the end of the play.
Reset: It’s the end of the second overtime. After a quick bucket from Miss State, Jalen Crutcher is fouled with the Flyers up two. Neither team has a timeout remaining. There are 2.8 seconds on the clock.
:00 to :15 — Crutcher misses the first freebie, the margin remains two. There doesn’t appear to be any instruction from the bench.
:16 to :25 — Blakney and Johnson communicate on the line, ostensibly discussing who to pick up after the foul shot…
:26 to :32 — …which is odd, because nobody on Dayton seems to pickup anybody on Miss State after Crutcher’s make (Some coaches may have called for an intentional miss by Crutcher in this situation, but that’s six of one, a half dozen of the other). It’s an absolute free for all, as UD literally watches Molinar get a clean catch around the free-throw line extended, take three quick dribbles and get off a fairly good look that would have sent the game to a third overtime if it fell. This segment is complete and utter chaos. I’m not sure the Flyers did a single thing right defensively. Nevertheless, Dayton escapes again, 85-82.
Reset: After an Ole Miss foul, Jalen Crutcher heads to the line with 7.6 seconds left in the contest. The Flyers lead by two, 64-62, and have a timeout remaining. The Rebels are all out of timeouts.35
:00 to :17 — Grant and the assistant coaches appear to be having a quick powwow. Anthony Solomon makes a quick gesture to ensure everyone knows their defensive matchup, Ibi Watson creeps up toward the three-point line.
:24 to :35 — Crutcher knocks down the first foul-shot, Dayton is now up three, 65-62. Darren Hertz quickly talks to AG, Grant is off-screen but appears to signal to Rodney Chatman. As you will note, UD has a timeout and could take it to set up their defense in case of a miss on the second Crutcher free-throw. AG chooses not to.
:35 to :38 — The color commentator, former LaSalle head coach John Giannini states, “I’d foul with the three-point lead.”
:39 to :49 — Crutcher misses the second and Dayton’s entire team begins to inexplicably retreat. Giannini utters “Better foul” as Ole Miss pushes the ball unencumbered up the floor. The ball ends up in Davontae Shuler’s hand, the only Rebel player you don’t want with the rock in this situation. Shuler gets a decent look but the shot rolls out and Dayton dodges overtime.
The verdict? Anthony Grant needs to rethink his late-game strategy. No timeouts, no pressure on the ball and not even a consideration of fouling up three with under ten seconds to play. Maybe, just maybe, try at least one of the aforementioned? UD’s current point differential is 2.5 points per game, close games appear to be more of a pattern, less of an anomaly. With the conference slate about to begin, and the margin for error so slim, success in late-game scenarios will be vital. You’d hate to see the season come down to a loss in a tight game that was mismanaged in the closing seconds. Given the evidence presented before us, the Flyers appear to be playing with fire. Who, I ask who, will put out that burgeoning strategical flame??
Merry Christmas to the entire #LOWD Nation.