Once he’d had enough fluids pumped into him after the game to stop the painful cramping in his legs, Xeyrius Williams stepped out of the team’s training room and explained what had just happened.
“Mind over matter,” he said with a shrug, then a big smile.
That should be the epigraph engraved on the Dayton Flyers’ season-opening 78-77 victory over Ball State on Friday night at UD Arena, a last-second triumph that launched the Anthony Grant era with an exclamation point.
… And a huge sigh of relief.
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Everyone will remember Josh Cunningham, the 6-foot-7 captain, as the hero for outjumping two Ball State defenders to gather in a Williams’ pass, coming down with the ball, pivoting and then going back up to score the buzzer beater with a 10th of a second left.
But the real star in those final seconds was Williams, who twice showed calm under pressure and, because of it, as Grant noted afterward, “gave us a chance at the end.”
Had there not been that mind-over-matter effort, there would have been no postgame pats on the back for Cunningham, who had a game-high 22 points, or Grant, who has returned with much fanfare to coach the college team for which he played in the mid-1980s.
With 3.5 seconds left, Tayler Persons, Ball State’s heady point guard, scored a driving layup to put the Cardinals back up on top, 77-76.
The basket seemed to deflate the sellout crowd of 13,350 and it rattled some of the Flyers.
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Williams inbounded to guard John Crosby, who began dribbling toward midcourt as precious fractions of seconds drained away.
Although he had played 34 minutes in the game and his calves were tightening, Williams showed his thinking was just fine.
He was the only Flyer with enough moxie and mindset to promptly turn to the referee and signal for a time out.
“We were dribbling and I’m thinking, ‘Wait, we’ve got a time out left!’ ” Williams said. “We can call time. There’s no need to rush here. We can get a good shot. We can live or die with something prepared rather than something that’s not prepared.”
In the huddle during the timeout, Grant designed a play for the final 2.6 seconds and assigned Crosby to throw the ball in from the sideline, just beyond mid-court.
But Ball State deflected the inbounds pass to Jalen Crutcher back out of bounds and that caused a long delay as the referees huddled at the scorer’s table monitor to make sure who had possession and how much time was left.
As the confab dragged on, the Flyers returned to their huddle a couple of times.
“Honestly, Coach Grant drew up five different plays,” Williams said. “Every time we got in the huddle he had a different play, a different play and then another different play.
The play they finally settled upon was, in Cunningham’s view, “a great play drawn up by Coach Grant. It was an excellent play that worked to a T.”
It was decided that Williams would inbound with 1.9 seconds left.
Before he was handed the ball by the ref, the 6-foot-9 Williams sized up Tahjai Teague, the 6-foot-8 Ball State defender who had set up right in front of him.
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Then he quickly studied the rest of the floor to see where his teammates were and who was guarding them.
“I was thinking (Teague) is gonna be jumping, so how am I going to throw the pass to Darrell if that’s where I want to go? Then I envisioned how I’d throw it to Josh or even Jalen (Crutcher) in the corner. I envisioned each pass.
“Jalen was open a second, but I was like, ‘I’m not gonna risk it. We don’t need a three.’ And Darrell wasn’t open.
“So I decided on Josh, who was under the basket. I knew I couldn’t be short with my pass, so honestly, I just looked at it as if I was shooting the ball from there. I was confident in Josh. If I could get it high enough and just drop it into his hands, he could do the rest.”
Cunningham said he wasn’t the first option on the play. He said the ball was supposed to go to Davis, who already had 16 points, 12 in the second half
But when Davis cut to the top of the key, his defenders stayed with him.
That left Cunningham in front of the basket with two defenders, 6-foot-9 Trey Moses and 6-2 Jeremie Tyler behind him.
When he saw Williams launch the ball in his direction, Cunningham admitted to be a bit surprised: “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh what’s going on?’
“I knew I could outjump their guys, but I didn’t know where the pass was gonna be. It turned out perfect. It was amazing.
“When I came back down with the ball, turned and went up again I was like, ‘Whoa, it’s wide open!’ I worried I’d shot it too soft, but then I saw it rattle in and out and back in and I said, please don’t come out.”
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It didn’t, and the Flyers had the victory.
“It really felt good to start off Coach Grant’s legacy here and to add to our own,” Williams said. “We want to keep getting wins.”
At the postgame press conference, Grant downplayed efforts to make the victory about him and instead praised several of his players, including Cunningham, Davis, Crosby and especially Williams
“He had played 34 minutes and he was cramping at the end, but he made a lot of big-time plays,” Grant said. “Those last four minutes from Xeyrius were all about heart.”
And, of course, mind over matter.