By Hal McCoy
For the first 20 minutes Saturday afternoon, it looked as if the University of Dayton basketball team’s trip to Atlanta was to practice its turnovers in a facility other than UD Arena.
In their first three games this season, the Flyers won two, despite bundles and bundles of turnovers.
And it was much the same in the first half Saturday against Mississippi State in something called the Holiday Hoopsgiving Bonanza.
The Flyers mostly stumbled and fumbled their way through the first 20 minutes and trailed by eight points.
Then came the second half, Then an overtime. Then came a second overtime.
And when it finally concluded, the Flyers owned an incredible 85-82 double overtime victory, as hard-earned as a victory will ever come.
And it took a miss on a wide-open ‘3’ by Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar at the buzzer that would have tied it and sent it into a third overtime.
During 50 minutes, there were 19 lead changes and 11 ties and several times it looked as if one team or the other was in full command.
After trailing, 33-25, at the half, the Flyers came out with more aggression and fewer turnovers to start the second half. And with a 9-0 blitz to open the half, UD took a 34-33 lead.
From there it was hand-to-hand combat, a back-and-forth affair, a you-win-it, no, you-win-it, no, you-win it.
Ibi Watson, a non-entity in the first half, poked himself awake midway through the second half to save this one.
Watson hir back-to-back ‘3’s late in regulation, then knocked down a pair of free throws with five seconds left to give the Flyers a 64-62 lead.
But just as they did in their loss to SMU, the Flyers permitted a player to drive the length of the floor and score. The SMU shot beat the Flyers. On Saturday, Molinar drove the length and tied it with an off-balance, falling-to-the-floor shot.
The Flyers fell four points behind in the first overtime, 70-66, with two minutes left. Jalen Crutcher hit a ‘3’ at 1:55 to draw the Flyers to within one.
MSU’s Abdul Ado scored his only basket of the game to push the Bulldogs in front, 72-69, with 32 seconds left.
The Flyers more than matched it in the same way. Reserve R.J. Blakney hadn’t scored, either, but he swished a ‘3’ from the left corner with 15 seconds left to tie it, 72-72. Molinar missed a game-winning attempt at the top of the key at the buzzer.
And it was off to overtime number two.
At 78-78, Jordy Tshimanga hit one of two free throws, MSU was called for a travel, and Watson drove for a basket. After an MSU air ball, Jalen Crutcher made two free throws.
Dayton 83, Mississippi State 78, 15 seconds left.
Mississippi State managed two baskets in the last nine seconds, but Crutcher went to the line twice and made one-of-two each time.
But by making only one of two both times, it gave Mississippi State the chance at the tying three that Molinar missed at the buzzer.
Crutcher and Watson led the UD point parade with 23 and 21, although both were off the mark on ‘3’s, both going 3 for 8. Chase Johnson and Rodney Chatman each contributed 15.
The Flyers once again were pencil-thin off the bench, getting the big three-pointer from R.J. Blakney, one basket from Moulaye Sissoko and nothing more.
Crutcher played all 50 minutes, while Johnson and Watson played 48. Chatman would have been right with them in minutes except for a bizarre play early in the first overtime.
MSU’s Cam Matthews was called for a foul against Chatman. But officials checked replay and ruled that Chatman performed a hook-and-hold on Matthews.
The call was reversed and the foul given to Chatman, his fifth foul, eliminating him from the game.
The Flyers, though, had no answer for 6-foot-6 sophomore D.J. Stewart. He doubled his scoring average with a career-best 32. Sophomore guard Iverson Molinar, averaging 18, scored 20, but needed 23 shots to make 10.
His shot at the buzzer sent the game into overtime, his miss at the end of the first overtime send the game into the second overtime, his miss at the end of the second overtime made UD a winner.
Mississippi State (3-3) came into its sixth game of the season shooting barely 50 per cent from the foul line., They didn’t even reach that Saturday, making only 9 of 22 (40.9 per cent) and it cost them dearly.
After committing 22 turnovers in its previous game, a 66-62 win over Northern Kentucky, UD cut that down to 17 Saturday, still far too many to sustain success.
“It was really frustrating,” said Chase Johnon after the 22 turnovers against Northern Kentucky. “Twenty (22) turnovers was 33 per cent of our possessions. It is definitely something we have to fix moving forward.”
The Flyers (3-1) have a week to fix it before they host the University of Mississippi Saturday afternoon in UD Arena.