Dayton turned an early fist fight into a runaway with just six minutes of offensive chaos in the second half. Virginia Commonwealth never recovered in Tuesday’s impressive A-10 Flyer win.
Dayton, OH — For 22 1/2 minutes, the University of Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth University were involved in a basketbrawl game, the equivalent of 10 guys in a dark back alley swinging bicycle chains at each other.
Elbows were flying, bodies were strewn across the UD Arena floor and all-out mayhem seemed just a push or a shove away.
It’s the way VCU plays the game with its self-proclaimed ‘Havoc’ defense, pressure and physicality on every inch of the floor.
How they pulled this one out of the depths was a sight to behold, a sight witnessed by another sellout of 13,407 screaming loyalists.
With 17 1/2 left in the game, the two best teams in the A-10 were tied, 41-41. Before the season, voters knew VCU, the defending regular-season champion, was returning four starters and 88 per cent of its scoring.
So they made VCU the pre-season favorite to win it again. The Rams received 19 first-place votes. Dayton was picked to finish third and received one first-place vote.
But that was then and this is now.
The 13th-ranked Flyers have established themselves this season as the best in the A-10. And with the score tied, 41-41, it was time to display what’s what.
It started with Dayton’s signature play this season — a lob pass from Ryan Mikesell to Obi Toppin for a glass-shaking slam dunk. And it ended with Ibi Watson driving to the basket with 11 minutes to play.
In that 6 1/2 minutes of Flyer mayhem, VCU didn’t score. Not a single point. The Flyers scored 22, a 22-point run – 22 unanswered points.
So from 41-41, it was Dayton 61, VCU 41. And the Rams were put away in the Flyers’ hip pockets.
There was trepidation entering the game, a worry that Obi Toppin might not play, or if he did he might be ineffective. He left Saturday’s after spraining his ankle early in the second half and was last seen at the end of the game wearing a boot on his right leg.
He played. Oh, did he play. Yes, he started slowly and even had one of his dunk tries blocked, a career first. But as play unfolded, Toppin forgot all about any possible pain and turned on the jets.
He played nearly 34 minutes, scored 24 points, snagged nine rebounds and had three assists. Obi’s best friend, Jalen Crutcher, chipped in 20 points and five assists.
“I went into the game not thinking about it (the ankle), just play basketball,” said Toppin. “It was bothering me at first, but as I got into the flow of the game my adrenaline started to pump more and it got better.”
Of the game’s physicality, Toppin said, “We knew coming in it was going to be a dog fight. It started from the jump and we knew it would be for 40 mimutes.”
Of those 40 minutes, those 6 1/2 minutes of the 22-0 explosion belonged to nobody but the Flyers.
“It is amazing because we know if something like that goes against us it will bring us down a bit,” said Toppin. “When we did it to them it slowed them down a bit. We knew we had to put our feet on their necks from the jump that 22-point run had the crowd involved. We have amazing fans and we just kept going.”
Neither Toppin nor Trey Landers realized by the time the scored reached 61-41 that the Flyers had scored 22 straight points.
“Didn’t know that until somebody told me after the game,” said Landers, who chipped in with 16 points and nine rebounds. And Landers showed true grit. Landers had only two points at halftime, both free throws. He was 0 for 4 from the field. He was 5 for 7 in the second half and was the Flyer enforcer when things got chippy — which was most of the game.
So how does a team go on a 22-0 breakout against a talented team? Strong defense. A bundle of VCU turnovers, some missed open shots by VCU and a stampede by the Flyers.
It unfolded like this:
It began with Toppin’s rim-bending dunk (2). Trey Landers drove the lane (4). Toppin dunked again on a pass from Crutcher (6). Landers scorhed a three (9). Rodney Chatman hit from the top of the lane (11).
Landers stuffed one home on a zippy pass from Toppin (13). Crutcher stole the ball and drove for a layup (15). Toppin dunked again on a pass from Crutcher (17). Toppin hit a three and ran down the court with arms raised in giddiness (20). Ibi Watson scored underneath (22).
During this avalanche of gargantuan proportions, VCU coach Mike Rhoades called two timeouts trying to stop the avalanche with a snow shovel.
During the timeouts, UD coach Anthony Grant told his team, “Just keep going. Keep it going.”
Said Rhoades after the carnage, “We lost our discipline. We had some bad fouls. We went rogue in our press. That enabled them to leak out and get some easy transition baskets.
“Toppin got them going with some big dunks. During that stretch we had no discipline, and no defense, and we didn’t compete. We didn’t have any defense to what they were trying to do. That’s a lack of discipline. And that was a landslide.
“I told them before the game we had to go out and play like we play because Dayton is the best team in the league,” he added.
And the Flyers showed it.
VCU’s scrambling, high-pressure defense did force the Flyers into a season’s worst 20 turnovers, but none during the 22-0 sequence.
“VCU is very disruptive the way they defend,” said Grant. “When you turn it over 20 times, it is hard to win against a team like VCU. We still found a way to build a substantial lead and win. In the midst of that, we were able to move on to the next play when something bad happened.”
The Flyers did it the way they way they always do it — with true grit, some down-to-the-wood defense, sharing the ball and shooting well. They shot 50 percent (26-52) and hit 7 of 21 threes.
VCU was able to make only 3 of 20 treys.
The Flyers take the show on the road Friday night against another top A10 team, the Saint Louis Billikens.