“So what’s tougher, hitting a deep three or making an alley-oop dunk?”
Caught off guard, Crutcher thought a second, then smiled: “What’s tougher?….A deep three!”
Next to him, the grinning Toppin stood shaking his head: “Noooo!….Noooo!”
That they stood on opposite ends of the question is understanding since thy are usually on opposite ends of their offensive half court, as well.
Against Saint Louis, the 6-foot-9 Toppin fished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and one meaningful first-half dunk. It gave him 66 for the season and tied him with Chris Wright for the Flyers single-season dunk record. Coming into the game, Toppin ranked third in the nation in dunks this season.
Crutcher, the 6-foot-1 point guard, had a team-high 17 points, five assists and made 4 of 8 three-point attempts Saturday. He’s the team’s top three-point shooter and is seventh in the Atlantic 10.
During the season both Toppin and Crutcher have had efforts to celebrate their side of the debate.
Crutcher made 4 of 5 from beyond the arc against UMass in January, 3 of 4 in an upset of Butler, 4 of 6 on Western Michigan and went 4 of 8 against Top 25 opponents Virginia and Mississippi State in late November.
His effort Saturday drew praise from Flyers coach Anthony Grant:
“Jalen is one of those guys who’s very mentally tough. He doesn’t live and die on his last shot. Whether it went in or not, he plays with a great deal of confidence , a great deal of poise.
“He can play through mistakes and tonight was one of those nights. That three he made going into the half that gave us the lead was huge. And in the second half – (hitting three more threes in the first 8:22) – the confidence he showed at big moments, that’s what you want to see at this stage.”
Toppin has often been a high-flying highlight reel – thanks, mostly, to the pinpoint lobs Crutcher sends his way — with his alley-oop dunks. He set a UD single-game mark with eight dunks against Detroit Mercy early this season and then there was the Dec. 29 break-away against Georgia Southern which he finished off with a between-the-legs dunk that soon became a viral hit.
When the Flyers travel to UMass on Tuesday night, Toppin may well break that single season mark that the 6-8 Wright – who now plays for the Oklahoma City Blue in the NBA G League — set in the 2009-10 season.
Back in Dayton during the recent NBA All Star break, Wright attended a few local games – including one at Sinclair and also UD’s one-point loss to VCU – and he spoke about Toppin and the dunk mark:
“That’s a lot of dunks….Records are made to be broken. For Obi to be right there, I’m excited…But at the end of the day, I’m still the better dunker.
“You can be a dunker, but to be able to use that in other parts of your game is what really sets you apart from other athletes.”
In his UD career, Wright scored 1,601 points, 354 of them coming off his program-record 177 dunks. Toppin has scored 370 points this season, 132 of them on dunks.
Toppin admitted he was trying to break the record at the end of Saturday’s game, but a perfect chance on a fast break and an alley-oop pass by Crutcher was broken up when the Billikens’ Fred Thatch Jr. managed to reach in and flick the ball out of bounds.
“Its’ an honor to tie the record and I’m trying to break it,” Toppin said.
With a grin, he added: “I heard on the radio an interview where (Wright) was (saying) like he’s still a better dunker…I don’t think so, but we’re gonna see.”
So there’s another debate.
But there were a few things everyone agreed on afterward.
One was the rousing return of junior guard Trey Landers, who missed last Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury suffered in practice.
Sitting there in street clothes and a brace, Landers said he was determined not to miss another game and did everything he could – with trainer Mike Mulcahey’s help – to get back in uniform.
He played nine minutes in the Flyers’ 74-73 upset win over host Davidson Tuesday night and he came off the bench and played over 17 minutes Saturday, scoring eight points, adding a rebound and making his first three pointer of conference play this season.
“I’ve been doing this for a while and he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve had the pleasure to coach, in terms of what he brings to the table,” Grant said. “His voice. His toughness. His resilience out there on the court, it really means a lot on this team and goes beyond the numbers you see on the stat sheet.
“And I was really happy to see that three go in for him. He’s had his difficulties over the course of the season (after shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc last season) and he’s really worked at it. But that play and some of his plays on the defensive end, along with his voice, his commitment out there, the team needed that.”
Crutcher agreed: “He helps in little ways that most people don’t realize.”
Landers helped set the tone for a team that showed it’s toughness, Grant said.
Once again the Flyers were down by 10 early – and this to a Saint Louis team that had beaten them 73-60 just 18 days earlier – and they fought their way back to the win.
Grant praised the way his young team stayed the course and said that’s what made it “a character win today.
“Different guys today stepped up in a variety of different ways. That showed character, showed toughness, showed a level of grit you want a team to play with, especially heading into March.”
And, just before he and Crutcher headed back to the dressing room, Toppin was tossed one more alley-oop, this one from a grinning sportswriter:
“Actually are you the best three point shooter on the team? Percentage wise you are.”
Although he missed his one long-range attempt, Toppin is still 6 of 12 from beyond the arc this season. That’s 50 percent. Similarly, 6-foot-8 Josh Cunningham is 5 for 12, making him 41.7 percent from three.
Crutcher is recognized as the ace because he’s made the prerequisite attempts considered by the Atlantic 10 Conference. He’s hit 62 of 166 for 37.3 percent.
So in this debate, where does Toppin stand? Is he the best?
This time Crutcher was shaking his head.
“We have some good shooters: Jalen, JD (Jordan Davis), Trey can shoot. (He forgot to mention Ryan Mikesell.) But I’m in the top three though.”
And just as he was about to leave, he nodded toward Crutcher:
“He really came to my shooting clinic. That’s why he shot so well today.”