Redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin (cover photo) had 22 points, including an emphatic windmill dunk, in UD’s Tuesday night win over Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn.
Sports Staff Writer
The University of Dayton men’s basketball team extended their lead at the top of the Atlantic 10 with a 81-67 win over Rhode Island Tuesday night.
Junior guard Jalen Crutcher and redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin led the way for the Flyers (22-2, 11-0 A-10), who ran out to a 17-0 lead and never looked back as they defeated the Rams (18-6, 10-2), who had won 10 games in a row.
“Coming out on that 17-0 run, it built a lot of confidence in our team,” Toppin said. “It hyped us up a lot and we knew that if we came out very strong it was gonna be hard for them to come back. It’s hard for any team to come back from a 17-0 run. We had a great start to the game and we did what we had to do for the rest of the game.”
The scoring was started on a layup by graduate senior forward Ryan Mikesell. On the following Flyers possession, Toppin hit a fadeaway jumper, which was followed by a 3-pointer from Crutcher to extend the Flyers’ lead to 7-0 with 17:35 remaining in the first half.
The first five minutes of the game were dominated by the Flyers, who moved the ball around with ease and found open space behind the three-point-line after working the ball into the post. Crutcher’s 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 10-0 forced Rhode Island to call their first timeout of the game at the 17:03 mark.
Senior guard Trey Landers has been called the heart of the team by his teammates and head coach Anthony Grant, and his drive was shown when he fought for a rebound that turned into an outlet pass to Toppin for an emphatic slam to give the Flyers a 12-0 lead – while shooting 100 percent from the field – heading into the first media timeout with 15:39 remaining in the first half.
The Flyers inflated their lead to 17-0 five minutes into the game with a 3-pointer by redshirt junior guard Rodney Chatman. The Rams finally scored their first basket of the game on a tip-in by senior forward Cyril Langevine, but the damage was done as the Flyers held a 17-2 lead with 14:31 remaining in the first half.
“Nothing changed in terms of our preparation,” Grant said. “It’s six or seven minutes into the game, anything can happen in college basketball in 34, 35 minutes to play. I didn’t really feel like we did anything different. Like I said I thought (Rhode Island) did a good job of changing the tempo of the game with their zone, it kind of slowed us down a little bit. We got kind of out of rhythm there, but I think our guys found it by the end of the half… I think our guys did a good job of sustaining no matter what came at them.”
Over the next three-and-a-half minutes leading into the second media timeout, the Flyers slowed down on offense but continued to suffocate the Rams on defense, which was shown when Jalen stripped the ball from a Rhode Island player under the basket and Obi blocked his brother Jacob on a 3-point attempt on the succeeding Rams possession.
“I didn’t say anything (after the block),” the older Toppin brother said. “I didn’t think I had to say anything after that. It was just ‘don’t try it again.’”
The Flyers also continued to work the ball into the post offensively and find players beyond the arch for three as sophomore guard Dwayne Cohill – who finished with 7 points in 19 minutes after missing the Flyers’ last game against Saint Louis – added a 3-pointer to give the Flyers a 23-8 lead at the 11:08 mark.
“Credit to Dwayne,” Grant said. “He didn’t get in the last two games and he got the opportunity tonight and he took advantage of it. We’re so proud of him for being able to stay with it, to maintain his head and maintain his poise and I thought he really impacted the game on both ends.”
Rhode Island junior guard Fatts Russell, who was averaging 20.3 points per game before tip-off, scored his first basket 11 minutes into the game and scored only 2 points on 1-6 shooting in the first half.
Free throws would become the story of the game, as both teams combined for 50 fouls, including seven technical fouls. The Rams started 1-6 on free throws through the first ten minutes, and the Flyers held a convincing 29-14 lead at the third media timeout with 7:49 remaining in the first half.
Langevine caused problems for the Flyers in the post over the next few minutes, scoring 8 points in the first half, as Rhode Island cut the deficit to just ten after a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Tyrese Martin to finish a five-point possession with 4:01 remaining in the first half.
Two free throws as a result of the first of six technical fouls started the five-point possession, and the Flyers held a 39-29 lead at the final media timeout of the first half with 2:39 remaining.
The Flyers closed out the first half leading 49-35, with eight different players in the scoring column, led by Crutcher – who finished 5-7 from the field and 9-9 from the free throw line – with 15 points.
“(My shooting tonight) just came from when I hit my first three,” Crutcher said. “I knew I was gonna have a good shooting night when I hit my first three so it was just up from there.”
The second half started with a couple of lay-ups from Russell as the lead was once again cut to 10 one minute into the half. Any chance of a comeback for the Rams was stopped by a Crutcher floater followed by an emphatic slam from Toppin to inflate the lead to 55-39 with 17:13 remaining in the game.
A behind-the-back pass from Chatman to Landers closed an 8-0 run for the Flyers, who led by 18 with 16:24 to go. At the under-16 media timeout, the Flyers led 57-41 with 15:01 remaining in the game.
When Toppin broke away with no one between him and the basket, it looked like it would be another dunk. That dunk quickly rose into SportsCenter Top 10 territory when Obi went with a windmill dunk over his brother, Jacob, and was fouled on the play. The Flyers fans were sent into a frenzy as the Flyers pushed the lead to 18 with 13:37 remaining in the game.
At the 11:52 mark, the Flyers’ Landers and Rams’ redshirt sophomore forward Antwan Walker were called for technical fouls after a brief exchange of words between the two teams near the Flyers’ bench. The Flyers held a 63-42 lead heading into the second media timeout of the second half.
By the next media timeout with 7:52 remaining in the game, the Flyers had extended their lead to 23, and as the fouls continued to pour in – 52 combined in the game, 6 technical fouls– the Flyers led 72-49.
“I didn’t understand what was going on with some of (the technical fouls),” Toppin said. “But we knew the refs were very strict with us today, just because we started early with the talking. We knew that the first word that was going to be said to another player was gonna be a tech. We were just in the heat of the game and it happened.”
The Rams made a bit of a comeback attempt, mainly at the free throw line, and cut the Flyers lead to 76-59 at the final media timeout with 2:56 remaining.
After Crutcher’s second 3-pointer with 17:03 to go in the first half gave the Flyers a 10-point, the Flyers never allowed the Rams back within single digits as they coasted to an 81-67 win to stretch their winning streak to 13 games.
The Flyers improve to 21-2 (11-0 A-10), while the Rams fall to 18-6 (10-2). The two teams face off again on Wednesday, March 4 at 9 p.m. in Kingston, Rhode Island.
The Flyers next game is on the road against Massachusetts Saturday at 12:30 p.m., while Rhode Island faces Saint Joseph’s at home Saturday at noon.