By HAL McCoy
There is a song out there by Mark Cohn called, ‘Walking in Memphis.’
And for 31 minutes Saturday afternoon in Amherst, Mass., it looked as if Memphis native Jalen Crutcher was walking the streets of his hometown.
The University of Dayton’s highly talented point guard had two points in the first 31 minutes against Massachusetts, and those two points came on a goal-tending call in the first half.
In the end, though, a 71-63 Flyers victory came from the hands of Crutcher, who flipped off his shirt to reveal the big ’S’ on his chest.
With Obi Toppin on the bench with three fouls, the Flyers were clinging to a six-point lead with 8:50 left in the game, 46-41.
It was as if over the next two minutes, Crutcher flipped on a Hero Switch. In less than two minutes, he scored 11 points, personally outscored UMass 11-2.
That built a 14-point lead, 57-43, and the Flyers hung on during a sluggish and listless afternoon. The eight-point win came after the Flyers beat UMass at UD Arena, 88-60.
All that proves is that winning on the road in the Atlantic 10 Conference is not an easy assignment.
In the end, the Flyers won their 14th straight, pushed their overall record to 23-2 and 12-0 in the A10.
And with Louisville losing earlier in the week, it is likely the Flyers will move to the No. 5 spot in the national rankings.
This is how Crutcher bailed out the Flyers.
°Dayton 46, Massachusetts 41.
°Crutcher hit a three at 8:50 as the shot clocker buzzer went off. 49-41.
°After missing two free throws, Crutcher hit another three at 8:14. 52-41.
°After UMass scored a basket, Crutcher drove the lane for a floater at 7:37. 54-43.
°Crutcher hit another three at 6:50 (11 points in two minutes) for a 57-43 lead.
The Flyers were in 16-point control, 63-47, with 4:11 to go before their batteries went dead.
They didn’t score another basket the rest of the way while UMass went on a run, outscoring UD 14-4 and cutting the lead to four, 67-63, with 15 seconds left.
The Flyers saved the day by making eight of 10 free throws in the final four minutes, four straight by Crutcher.
So after not making a basket in the first half (two points on a goal-tending call), Crutcher finished with 17 points. . .11 of perhaps the most crucial of his many-storied career.
“We didn’t play our best and, obviously, that’s on me as the head coach to make sure our guys are ready,” said coach Anthony Grant on his post-game show with Larry Hansgen.
“The second half we needed to come out and understand what we came here to do and that was go get the win,” he added. “No matter what we needed to get that done, no matter how pretty or ugly it was, we had to make sure we made plays on both sides of the ball. You have to be able to win when you don’t play well, and today was one of those.”
Thanks to Jalen’s crutchability, it was accomplished, with zero style points.
“Jalen Crutcher was big-time,” said Grant in the weekend’s biggest understatement. “He really stepped up, made some huge plays.
“We all struggled, not one of our best games, but the mark of a real good player is that when that moment that is required you are able to step up in that moment. And he was able to do that in a big way.”
The Flyers were sluggish from the start and trailed, 15-10. That’s why Jordy Tshimonga came off the bench to score six straight points during a 15-0 UD run that netted a 25-15 lead.
At that point, it was expected the Flyers would show nothing but their tail lights to the Minutemen.
It didn’t happen, mainly because of UMass freshman Tre Mitchell, a man among men. He dominated the paint and led all scorers with 26.
UMass was within two just before the half when Obi Toppin swished an NBA-distance three at the buzzer for a 31-26 halftime margin.
Even though he scored 19 and grabbed seven rebounds, it wasn’t an eye-popping performance by Toppin. He did slam home three dunks, to give him 83 on the year, breaking his own single-season UD dunk record.
Toppin scored 19, his average, as he and Crutcher were UD’s only double figure participants. Toppin was 8 for 13 from the field and spent considerable time on the bench the second half with three fouls.
While the Flyers scored 34 points under the basket, UMass scored 40, mostly due to the domination of the 6-foot-10 Tre Mitchell. His 26 points came on 11 of 22 shooting, including three of five from the three-point line.
Other than Mitchell, the Minutemen were 1 for 15 from three. And Mitchell had a double-double with 10 rebounds
UMass, though, shot only 38 per cent on 24 of 63. The Flyers were on target for their usual plus-50 per cent shooting, as the nation’s top percentage shooters. They made 27 of 51 for 53 per cent.
Although they didn’t resemble the No. 6 team in the country, they did lead by 16 with four minutes left, then suffered Inferior Foe Relapse.
“We got sloppy when they were in desperation mode, turned it over two or three times at the very end,” said Grant.
Nevertheless, it was a road victory and one step closer to winning the A-10 championship with an important game Tuesday night at Virginia Commonwealth.