As for the Flyers, they have won 12 straight and are 13-and-0 at home, but have scuffled a bit while winning their last three games against Duquesne, Fordham and Saint Louis. As it’s tattooed on Opi’s arm… ‘Nothing comes easy’.
And that certainly applied Saturday afternoon in UD Arena for both the University of Dayton basketball team and Toppin.
When it comes to playing the Saint Louis University Billikens, the game usually ends with both teams wearing black and blue marks all over their bodies and a few bandages.
After the first half, Dayton’s Ryan Mikesell was wearing a bandage behind his ear, almost as if Mike Tyson had bitten him.
That’s the way it is with Dayton-Saint Louis, 40 minutes (or more in overtime games) of physical abuse and referees blowing whistles until they are blue in the face.
And it is that way no matter how good or bad Saint Louis is. The Billikens took the Flyers into overtime in Saint Louis last month before Jalen Crutcher hit a three at the buzzer for a two-point victory.
Earlier this week, Saint Louis lost at home to Duquesne by 14 points. And the week before the Billikens played two games in Philadelphia against two of the Atlantic 10’s worst teams — St. Joseph’s and LaSalle. They edged past Saint Joseph’s by five and beat LaSalle in overtime by one.
But Saturday at UD Arena, Saint Louis played like St. Peter at the Pearly Gate before falling to the Flyers, 71-65. With less than a minute left, Saint Louis was within four points, 67-63.
The Flyers, though, dropped the Billikens to 6-and-5 in the Atlantic 10 while UD leaped to 10-0, the first Dayton team to start the A-10 schedule with 10 straight wins. And the sixth-ranked Flyers pushed their overall worksheet to 21-2.
Toppin? He and Jalen Crutcher split the high-game scoring with 17 each, but as it says on Obie’s arm, “Nothing Comes Easy.”
The Billikens double and triple teamed Toppin and when he was around the basket they beat on him like a boxer’s speed bag.
Crutcher was only 1 for 8 with 12 minutes left in the game. But, as usual, Toppin and Crutcher grabbed the reins down the stretch and led the Flyers out of the abyss.
Saint Louis grabbed its first lead of the game at 47-46 with 12:50 left in the game and the sellout crowd was restless and wondering, “Is this the day it ends?”
Crutcher, though, hit a three to recapture the lead. From there, he scored 13 in the final 12 minutes and Toppin contributed six, including a thunderclap dunk with four minutes left to give the Flyers a 61-56 lead.
The officials called 23 personals on Saint Louis and 16 on the Flyers. The biggest whistle came with 5:12 left and UD leading by three, 57-54.
Hasahn French was called for his fifth personal, robbing the Billikens of their best player , a guy who averages a double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds). When he left, he took 15 points and eight rebounds with him.
Jordy Tshimanga, Toppin’s back-up, played perhaps his best game, scrapping for five points and four rebounds. But he fouled out in only 10 1/2 minutes of playing time.
Now the Flyers jump into a real fire Tuesday night, a conflagration, when they host Rhode Island. The Rams annihilated George Washington Saturday afternoon, 82-52. The Rhodies are 10-and-1 in the A10 (18-5 overall). If they beat the Flyer Tuesday, they take over first place in the A-10.
And there is an interesting side story. Obi Toppin’s little brother, Jacob, plays for Rhode Island. He comes off the bench and is averaging 4.8 points a game.
Obi says little brother Jacob is talking a lot of smack. Obi received a text after Saturday’s game and said, “I’m going to read you exactly what he said. He said, ‘Oh, oh, we’re coming for you and. . .’ whoops, I can’t say that word. I didn’t know that was in there. He just said, ‘You’re up next.’
Toppin said both his mother and father, his grandparents and a slew of other relatives and friends plan to attend.
Asked if mom or dad asked him to take it easy on Jacob, Obi said, “No, it is very competitive when it comes to me and Jacob. When we get together on the basketball floor, we’re not brothers and we’re not friends. It’s just hard-fought.”
Asked what the scouting report was for him on Rhode Island, Obie smiled and said, “Don’t let Jacob score. Just don’t let him score. If he scores I did my team a disservice.”
And the smack? “We give it back-and-forth every single day since the day he committed to Rhode Island,” said Toppin.
Of the win over Saint Louis that was like pulling wisdom teeth with a pair tweezers, Toppin said, “They are a very physical team. They are a very well-coached team (former University of Kentucky star Travis Ford). We knew we had to keep them off the boards. We outfought them for 40 minutes and that’s why we won.”
The Flyers outboarded the Billikens in the first half, 16-13, but Saint Louis took command in the second half and outboarded the Flyers, 33-27. UD guard Ryan Mikesell led the Flyers with eight rebounds.
“We knew they don’t shoot a lot of threes (5 for 11 Saturday to UD’s 5 for 17), so we just packed our defense back in the paint,” said Toppin. “We tried to force them outside and not let them get it inside. Everybody was locked in today.”
Crutcher, as always, showed what he is made of — muscle, gets and three gallons of confidence.
As are all good shooters, when he is suffering an off game he doesn’t shut it down. He keeps firing away until they start falling.
That’s what he did Saturday and that saved the day for the Flyers.
“Any time we play Saint Louis, we know it is going to be a tough game, all the way to the wire,” he said. “I had to stay the course and we had to stay the course. My coaches and my teammates tell me to shoot the ball, no matter what’s going on in the game. That’s what I try to do because I have a lot of confidence in myself.”
At 21-and-2, with both defeats coming to ranked teams in overtime, somebody suggested that the Flyers are near-perfect. Toppin would have none of it.
“No team is perfect,” he said. “There is always room to get better. We know that, nobody is ever going to be perfect. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan — they all said it — there is always room for improvement, no matter how good you are.”
The Flyers have won 12 straight and are 13-and-0 at home, but have scuffled a bit while winning their last three games against Duquesne, Fordham and Saint Louis.
That improvement Toppin talks about is needed Tuesday against Rhode Island and Toppin doesn’t want to bow down to little brother.