In an emotional-packed day, childhood friends Anthony Grant and Frank Martin did battle on the UD Arena floor and Grant led the Flyers from a big first-half lead to holding off Frank Martin’s UMass team. The Flyers won their ninth straight, improved to 12-2 (2-0 in the Atlantic 10), then Martin was in tears after the game talking about his relationship with Grant.
Dayton, OH — UMass nearly made a UMess of the University of Dayton basketball team Sunday afternoon in UD Arena.
Midway through the first half the Flyers built a double-digit lead and looked as comfortable as a cherry atop whipped cream.
And it was still a double-digit margin with 9:48 to go, a 13-point lead. Then the University of Massachusetts Minutemen grabbed the cherry and seemingly within a flash of lightning sliced the lead to within two with 1:57 to go.
The Flyers saved their day, though, by making five of six free throws the rest of the way to rescue a 64-60 victory, an emotional day for UD coach Anthony Grant and UMass coach Frank Martin, two guys who have been life-long friends since they were 14 years old and grew up together in Miami, FL.
They set a Guinness world record for longest hug when they met on the floor before the game.
And Martin actually said this: “It was late in the game and it was a two-point game and we had the ball. We came out of a timeout and I actually looked over there (at Grant) and I couldn’t figure out at that moment what would make me feel worse, whether we made the shot or missed the shot.”
And it helped the Flyers win their ninth straight game, pushing their record to 12-2, 2-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference while UMass fell to 10-3 and 1-1.
This one was strange.
How do you win a game when the other team picks off 20 offensive rebounds like a bunch of guys on ladders picking apples? UMass had 20 offensive rebounds.
How do you win a game when the other team has six more field goals? UMass outgoaled the Flyers, 24-18.
To start with, it begins and ends with defense. UMass came in with the 27th best point average in NCAA Division I, 83.8 points a game. UD held them to 60.
And the 20 offensive rebounds by UMass? UD’s counterpoint was making 18 of 21 free throws, including those five pressure-packed one in the late-going. . .four straight by Javon Bennett, his only points of the game despite playing 36 1/2 minutes.
UD overcame UMass’s 24-18 field goal advantage by making 18 of 21 free throws (UMass was 9 for 15). And the Flyers made 10 for 29 from three. UMass? They missed threes enMass, missing 17 of their first 18 tries and finishing 3 for 22.
And when it was over, UMass coach Frank Martin came to the Arena media room and broke into tears talking about Grant and their relationship.
“I didn’t sleep last night just reminiscing,” he said, pausing to rescue his composure. “Huh…uh…oh boy. He (Grant) and I started on this journey when we were 14 years old. The challenges he has gone through as a human being and to have the courage to be so strong. Such a class individual. I’m lucky I have had someone like him in my life.”
By now, Martin’s voice was cracking and tears trailed down his cheeks.
“Our journeys, our paths, our families, our children, what we’ve both come from and what we’ve both been able to accomplish as men, y’know. . .it was a hard night.”
Asked about the job Grant is doing with the Flyers, Martin said, “It’s phenomenal, man. He has been good everywhere he’s been. He won in the SEC (at Alabama) and that school and that league tried to break him as a human being.
“It’s a shame, a shame,” Martin continued. “He’s all class, the way he helps people.”
About the game and the environment, Martin was just as eloquent.
“I hadn’t been in this building since I was an assistant at Cincinnati,” said Martin, in his second season at UMass. “And it’s awesome to be a part of such a great basketball environment. This is one of the great, great places for college basketball.
“And by the way, credit Anthony for using Daron Holmes II different every year he’s been here,” he added. “That is coaching and player development. . .that’s what it is all about. What DaRon was as a freshman to where he is now as a player, it’s two different human beings.
On this day, Holmes opened the game hovering near the top of the lane and tossed in three straight three-pointers, forcing UMass to employ a zone in the second half that was effectively stifling.
“We needed to go zone to get them to stand around a bit and not play through Holmes at the top of the key. I went to it when we were down 15 or 16 and it slowed them down a little bit
UD’s game plan flew up the vents early in the game when Kobe Elvis limped off the floor. He returned briefly, but quickly left again.
As it always seems with this team, somebody stepped up. Holmes scored his normal 18, Enoch Cheeks stepped up with 11 — the only two Flyers in double figures.
And Zimi Nwokeji, seldom-used Zimi Nwokeji, had his moments. With the Flyers leading, 20-10, and Elvis on the bench in pain, Zimi hit two straight threes, his first two threes of the season, pushing UD’s lead to 26-12.
He played 14 minutes and produced nine points, three rebounds, and left some knee skin on the Arena wood diving for loose balls.
Nwokeji is the only remnant of the 2019-2020 team that finished 29-2, led by Obi Toppin, that could only be stopped by COVID-19. Zimi was a red-shirt freshman then and didn’t play but he was around that team.
And he sees this year’s team as made of The Right Stuff, The Same Stuff.
“For sure and I feel like we can do it again,” said Nwokeji. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t. It would mean a lot to me, especially being more a part of it. That was my first year, just learning and now I’m actively being part of the project.”
Zimi leaned back in his chair, erupted into a giggle and said, “You eat a donut and you like it, what you gonna do? Eat one again.”
And it doesn’t matter to him and the rest of the Flyers, glazed, powdered sugar or cinnamon. Just bring on about two dozen, one for each win before tournament time.