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Grant Gives the Mick in 91-86 OT Thriller Over VCU
Grant Gives the Mick in 91-86 OT Thriller Over VCU
Christopher Rieman
Published by Chris R
Smile Grant Gives the Mick in 91-86 OT Thriller Over VCU

“It was just toughness and grittiness. They weren’t gonna be denied tonight….the sum becoming greater than the individual parts – that’s teamwork.”

That was UD head coach Anthony Grant’s observation in the post-game press conference following Dayton’s blood-tingling and electrifying 91-86 overtime victory over VCU on Friday night, securing UD’s second undefeated home season in four years. In a moment that defined the unpredictable rollercoaster of the 2023-24 season and encapsulated by the 45-minute octagon-like caged death match that frightened and thrilled 13,407 screaming lunatics, Grant’s post-game comments unknowingly defined himself along the way. It only got better as he spoke to reporters and was Donoher-esque as he’s ever sounded.

The regular season finale had a lot of weight to it. After losing All-A10 PG Malachi Smith seven minutes into the home opener and fans whispering “here we go again”, Dayton overcame adversity and exceeded expectations for nearly two and a half months. The last four or five weeks however proved more difficult. Tight wins against weaker foes and road losses to A10 contenders Richmond and Loyola left much to be desired. Second half execution often waned, defensive stops were few and far between, and bugaboos likes turnovers and missed free throws kept UD from claiming a conference regular season title. To pile on the adversity, PG Javon Bennett injured his thumb against Loyola and the status of his return is tentative at best. Friday’s victory over VCU – shorthanded and in need of a statement performance – came at the perfect time heading into the A10 Tournament next week.

How it happened is more important.

The Flyers were on the verge of getting boat-raced off their home court after falling behind 26-9 with 10 minutes gone in the first half. Nothing went right on offense or defense: missed layups, bad defense, turnovers, and a VCU team putting on a Caitlin Clark shooting exhibition behind the semicircle. If Dayton could just peck away and get the deficit under double digits at halftime, perhaps they could put up a fight in the second half. Mission accomplished as UD outscored the Rams 22-12 to cut their halftime lead to 38-31. Nate Santos was chiefly responsible.

The second half was Rocky vs Clubber Lang – body blows on almost every possession. When Dayton got hot and made a run, VCU countered by draining three-pointers over the out-stretched arms of DaRon Holmes II or driving to the hole for acrobatic layups. The Flyers would strike back, but VCU found answers. It was 20 minutes of shot-making, play-making, and coaching-staff warfare to grab the slightest advantage that might be the difference. Dayton took its first lead on a Santos triple with 5:57 left to play, but things were deadlocked at 70-70 as regulation ended.

In an overtime that produced a staggering 37 combined points, Kobe Elvis broke an 80-80 tie with 43 seconds left on a transition triple in front of the Dayton bench. No trifecta earned a louder UD Arena roar since Jordan Sibert’s dagger against Boise State in the NCAA First Four. VCU drilled two additional three pointers after that and finished 4-7 from long range in extra time yet still ended up losing – that’s how diabolical the run of play was. It wasn’t over until it was over, but even the finality felt hard to believe.

Santos finished with 21pts and 8 rebounds on 4-6 shooting from deep, while Holmes added a workman-like 23pts and 10 rebounds amid numerous hacks, gropes, yanks, and shoves. Some better finishing around the basket and Deuce might have scored 30+. All five starters finished in double figures with Koby Brea adding 18 on 4-7 from trey to pad his nation’s leading 3PT%, while Enoch Cheeks contributed 14pts, 6asts, and some timely ball-handling late in the game. It was Elvis however with the biggest shot in the biggest moment to put the Flyers up for good. The senior from Ontario finished with 15pts as the Flyers got all their scoring from the starting five.

Criticized by the fan base at times for doing too little or too much this year, Elvis reflected on the journey in an emotional post-game statement.

“To be able to make history and to be undefeated at home, to be out there with my brothers…I can’t be more grateful for that situation.” He later added, “I’m extremely grateful that my teammates trust me in these moments to be able to respond. They are looking for me in these moments.”

“For us to give them something to be proud of, to be undefeated at home and to protect our house is super important to us,” Brea said as he acknowledged the sixth man in the stands for aiding and abetting the comeback.

The most potent post-game quotables came from Grant however. Never careless with his thoughts or words, he struggled to find the right sentiment.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and that’s as gritty a performance I’ve seen in my 30-plus years of coaching.” He continued, “I’m in some ways speechless because that was a heck of a fight by our group tonight because that was special.”

Grant understood the gravity of the moment and never made it about himself, heaping praise on his players and coaching staff for persevering, making adjustments, and never quitting on one another. The one-time Donoher pupil couldn’t help but sound exactly his muse. That was no more telling than when a reporter talked about Dayton’s second undefeated home record in four seasons:

“You did it twice,” stated the reporter.
“I haven’t done anything,” Grant responded.

No four words ever sounded more humbling, grateful, or self-aware of a man that’s spent the last five years traversing the highest professional highs and the deepest, darkest, depths of personal hell.

Dayton earned the #3 seed in the A10 Tournament and will not have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday. Of all the things that could have gone wrong this year, innumerable things went right. Whether Grant chooses to take credit is his choice, but this is one of the best coaching jobs of his career. It’s a group with a high ceiling and real limitations. Margins are thin but potential is great. Had Flyer fans been promised a 24-6 record #21 NET ranking 7 minutes into the season, 13,407 of 13,407 UD Arena patrons would have taken that bribe.

“This is real life…you’re talking about some guys that have grit, perseverance, and they love each other. They play for each other.”

While channeling his inner Mick with the media, it’s apparent the players also play for their coach.

Hot shooting hides a multitude of sins.
"Yeah....220, 221, whatever it takes." - Jack Butler (Mr. Mom)
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By UACFlyer on 03-09-2024, 06:10 PM

Thank you Chris.
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By Class of 73 Alum on 03-09-2024, 08:28 PM
Congrats Chris...Great article!!
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By CvilleFlyer on 03-10-2024, 05:22 PM
Thanks Chris. I have been a long time fan and season ticket holder. I graduated in 1968 and attended the Final Four in Louisville in 1967. I got to watch Don May hit his first 13 shots in a row in the semifinal victory over North Carolina. Don Donoher outcoached the legend Dean Smith in that game! I had chill bumps in that game and being there at the VCU game last Friday I got them again with each made three pointer by both teams! It definitely was like a heavyweight fight with each team having an answer for what the other was trying to do. The Flyers got the victory and thank you for giving credit to Anthony Grant even though he deferred and gave all the credit to his players!
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