Dayton all alone in third place with four games to play
The Dayton Flyers got everything they wanted Saturday except the school dunk record for Obi Toppin.
Saint Louis fouled Toppin, who tied the record in the first half with his 66th slam of the season, at the rim on a fast break in the final minute, preventing him from moving past Chris Wright. That was a minor footnote in Dayton's 70-62 victory at UD Arena.
“I wanted it,” Toppin said. “I was trying to get it at the end.”
A sellout crowd of 13,137 — most of the fans wearing red like the Flyers, who wore their road jerseys in support of American Heart Month — saw Dayton avenge a 73-60 loss at Saint Louis on Feb. 5 and improve its chances of earning a top-four seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
Dayton improved in many of the areas in which it struggled in the first game against Saint Louis, most notably in rebounding and outside shooting. The Flyers won the rebounding battle 33-30 after being out-rebounded 41-33 in the first game and made 10 of 22 3-pointers after making 3 of 16 in the first game.
“The lesson from that (first) game was the physicality we needed to bring and the toughness we would have to have to come out on the winning end,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said, “and I thought our guys really did that tonight.”
The Flyers trailed 19-9 with six minutes to play in the first half but ended the half on a 12-2 run. The Billikens scored their last basket at the 2:46 mark. Dayton ended the half on a 6-0 run with Jalen Crutcher hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Dayton had made 2 of 10 3-pointers until the shot by Crutcher. Starting with that shot, it made 8 of 12.
“A lot of times when you’re dealing with young people, they attribute playing well to scoring,” Grant said. “Sometimes you get disappointed when you don’t see the ball go in, so for us to be able to maintain our defensive edge and to rebound the ball and get stops and then toward the end of the half we made a run to be able to go into the half with the lead, I thought that showed character. I thought this was a character win today.”
Crutcher led the Flyers with 17 points. Josh Cunningham scored 13. Ryan Mikesell added 12. Obi Toppin had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
With George Mason (15-12, 9-5) losing 79-78 at home to Duquesne (18-9, 9-5), Dayton sits alone in third place with four games to play. Duquesne, George Mason and St. Bonaventure are all tied for fourth at 9-5.
Dayton at Massachusetts, 7 p.m., ESPN+, AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO