Flyers’ staunch defense, scoring variety lead to big 76-53 win over Saint Louis on Senior Night

Flyers senior guard Rodney Chatman (right, with ball) dribbles the ball up the court during the Flyers’ big 76-53 win over Saint Louis on Senior Night. Even though the score line shows a 23-point difference, Friday night’s game was a physical battle. Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

The Dayton Flyers men’s basketball team celebrated Senior Night with a momentous 76-53 win over Saint Louis Friday night, characterized by shut-down defense in the first half and a wide range of scorers. 

Before the game, seniors Camron Greer, Jordy Tshimanga, Rodney Chatman, Ibi Watson and Jalen Crutcher were recognized at mid-court with framed jerseys and a special message from their parents.

“Seeing my family up on the big screen kind of made me a little sad there,” Crutcher said. “I wanted to cry a little bit, but I knew I had a game to be ready for, so everything was good tonight, I’m glad we got the win on Senior Night.”

Fellow senior guard Watson said he didn’t expect the message from his mom, and while he expected something special, it was “great to see.”

“It was pretty awesome, just being able to have that extra motivation from our families, for sure,” Watson said.

Head coach Anthony Grant said the ceremony was different, but thought the ceremony was “extremely well done.”

“The video tributes, the words from (the players’) families meant a lot,” Grant said. “And that made it special. Certainly, at the end of the day, senior night will be remembered for that being a part of it, but also being able to come out with the win. It was great to be able to see that happen for those guys.”

After the ceremony, the Flyers jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, even after Crutcher went down with a lower left leg injury, forcing the Saint Louis timeout with 17:40 left in the first half. 

The Flyers continued to extend their lead, and led 10-2 heading into the under-16 media timeout with 15:42 remaining in the half.

Shooting an efficient 7-12 from the field through the first nine minutes of the game, the Flyers held the lead, but the Billikens were able to cut into the deficit, which was 19-13 in favor of the Flyers with 10:59 remaining in the first half. Watson led the team with 7 points, and Crutcher checked back into the game a few minutes earlier.

The Billikens knocked down a three to cut the deficit in half, but the Flyers responded with a quick 7-0 run in 53 seconds, led by great defensive possessions on one end setting up fast break points on the other. With the lead up to 26-16, the Billikens were forced to call timeout with 9:12 remaining in the first half. 

By the under-8 media timeout, the Billikens had made 2 of their last 10 field goals (seven straight misses) and junior forward Elijah Weaver went to the free throw line with the Flyers leading by 12 with 5:51 remaining in the half.

Weaver knocked down both free throws, and the Flyers continued to hold the Billikens offense in check through the under-4 media timeout with 3:32 left. Shooting just 6-25 from the field and turning the ball over 6 times, the Billikens trailed 31-16.

The rest of the first half didn’t go much better for the visitors, as the Flyers continued to pester the Billikens on the defensive end and push on offense, opening up a 43-23 lead at halftime.

Against a team which ranked top 50 in the NCAA with 78.6 points per game, the Billikens were held to just 23 first-half points and shot 31 percent from the field.

“I thought it was a great team effort,” Grant said. “And guys understood the urgency we needed to play with. Saint Louis is a very good team, they’re an NCAA (tournament) team… I think our guys, from the first game, knew how hard of a game this would be. So it was good to see us go out and give the effort and the focus and the intensity that we needed.”

Grant added it was important to prevent the Billikens from any sustained runs, and the largest Saint Louis run ended up being a 6-0 run midway through the first half.

Watson led the team with 9 points, and while freshman forward Mustapha Amzil led the rest with 8 points, six different Flyers (besides Watson and Amzil) had scored at least 2 points at halftime. 

With the Flyers winning the rebounding battle 18-13 – Tshimanga leading that category with 6 boards – the Flyers also led in shooting percentage (64 to 31 percent), turnovers (4 to SLU’s 8), and points off turnovers (12-3). At the break, everything pointed to a big win for the Flyers on senior night. 

To start the second half, there wasn’t much to separate the two teams before a pair of threes from Chatman and then Crutcher (assisted by Chatman, who mixed up his defender at mid-court) pushed the Flyers’ lead to 24 before it was cut to 53-31 with 14:54 remaining in the second half. 

Over the next three minutes (after Crutcher went to the line for a pair of technical free throws on the other side of the timeout to extend the lead back to 24), the teams continued to exchange baskets, with the Flyers leading 59-35 at the under-12 media timeout of the second half with 11:59 remaining in the game. The Flyers also went into the bonus with the Billikens’ seventh foul of the half with 12:18 remaining. 

However, the end of the game would not be about simply winding down the clock. In fact, winding the clock proved to be quite the issue, as the shot clock by the Flyers’ bench stopped working for a good part of the second half. This caused a 10-minute delay and forced the PA announcer to read the shot clock out loud every five seconds until it was resolved just before the under-8 media timeout with 6:05 remaining and the Flyers leading 68-45. 

“We had some unforeseen stoppages today with the shot clock that were concerning for me in terms of being able to take away some momentum for that long of time,” Grant said. “We found a way to regroup and finish strong and do what we needed to do to get the win.”

As Watson and Crutcher pushed their combined point total to 31, the Flyers pushed their lead to 74-47 at the final media timeout with 2:53 left in the game. 

After that, all that was left was the senior check-outs, with Tshimanga coming out first with 1:54 left in the game. Watson was next with 1:37 on the clock, followed by Chatman after a made Billikens free throw, and finally Crutcher was replaced to raucous cheers from the limited by fellow senior Camron Greer with 1:23 left.

After that, with the shot clocks working, the Flyers closed out a big 76-53 win over the Billikens. 

Crutcher and Watson combined for 33 points, while the Flyers held the Billikens to 27 percent from the field and forced 15 turnovers. 

“It’s great playing with Jalen,” Watson said. “I view him as the best point guard in the country, really. So having a guy like that who is a big-time scorer, big-time passer, big-time playmaker, makes my job easy. Playing with him is great and he just boosts us every night.”

The Flyers improve to 12-7 on the season and 8-6 in A10 play and will face Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.

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