To avoid an over-the-rim reveal, Obi Toppin resorted to some deep-sea subterfuge.
After the Dayton Flyers had finally brushed aside Western Michigan, 85-72, Wednesday night – in part because of Jalen Crutcher’s alley-oop passes that Toppin kept finishing off with powerful, often acrobatic dunks that left the UD Arenas crowd roaring – the 6-foot-9 freshman high-flyer was asked if there was a certain signal he and his point guard use to set these slams in motion.
Toppin thought a moment, then grinned:
“It’s like the Krabby Patty formula, it’s secret.”
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He was referring to SpongeBob SquarePants, the animated TV series that takes place in an underwater city called Bikini Bottom. It’s there where everybody heads to the Krusty Krab diner for the Krusty Patty made with a secret formula that the series’ mini-villain – Plankton – tries without luck to discover.
Seeing some of the media folks in front of them didn’t have a clue what Toppin was talking about, Crutcher, the sophomore from Memphis who finished with 10 assist on top of 14 points, further explained:
“It’s a secret we can’t give y’all. We can’t tell y’all the formula. Then other teams would be listening and try to get it…know what I’m saying?”
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Well, not exactly.
After all, as Wednesday’s game wore on, the oft-victimized bunch from Western Michigan – like everyone else in the Arena – knew what was coming and couldn’t stop it.
It was the same when Detroit Mercy – refusing to get out of a flawed zone defense the whole game – came into the Arena and Toppin set a single- game UD record with eight dunks, many of them facilitated by Crutcher.
Wednesday night, Toppin finished with 22 points on 11 for 11 shooting, also a Flyers’ record for perfect shooting in a game. This time he had six dunks,
There were other reasons UD – now 6-5 – won this one.
First and foremost was redshirt senior captain Josh Cunningham, who Coach Anthony Grant referred to as “a rock” – as in cornerstone of the Flyer’s success – after the game.
The 6-foot-8 forward had 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists. He also was the key defender on the Broncos 7-foot center, Seth Dugan, who came into the game 18th in the nation in double doubles this season and 21st in rebounds per game. Against Detroit he had 32 points and 22 rebounds.
Against the Flyers, Dugan finished with just four points and one rebound and had his shot blocked twice.
UD’s defense also stymied Jared Printy, Western Michigan’s top three-point shooter. He went 1 for 7 from long range.
Another factor in the game was Crutcher’s four first-half three-pointers, three of them in 71 seconds.
Yet the thing people will remember most from this one are the Crutcher-to-Toppin dunks.
And they got better and better as the night wore on.
With just over eight minutes left, Toppin was several feet from the basket when Crutcher’s rainbow pass came in. He only had time to jump, stretch out and slam the ball with his left hand,.
“I didn’t know if he had it at first,” Crutcher admitted. “He’s really left handed. Nobody knows, but we do.”
Just 20 seconds later the pair hooked up again and this time Crutcher was the magician., He looked toward the stands, away from the basket, then fired a no-look pass back over his head that Toppin caught and dunked two handed.
But the piece de resistance came with just 33 seconds left in the game. Toppin was in front of the basket, flanked by the 7-footer Dugan and 6-foot-5 Kawanise Wilkins, when the Crutcher lob came toward him.
He soared up, looking away from the rim, caught the ball and extended his long, tattooed arms back over his head for a no-look, backwards dunk as the two Western Michigan defenders, caught off guard, stood looking up – and stunned.
Toppin said that was his favorite score of the night.
“I don’t even think he was looking at the rim,” Crutcher marveled.
“I thought I missed it, for real,” Toppin admitted.
If this Crutcher-to-Toppin act keeps up through the season and in the coming years, the pair will be remembered like some of other famed duos from the Flyers’ past, guys where when you thought of one of them you usually thought of the other:
Donald Smith and Mike Sylvester.
Don May and Bobby Joe Hooper.
Monk Meineke and Junior Norris.
Crutcher and Toppin are roommates this year at the Caldwell Street apartment complex, so they spend a lot of time together.
But the seeds of this alley oop show began last year on the practice floor. Seven games into the season, Crutcher had become the starting point guard. Toppin was an academic redshirt, so he could only work out with the team.
“Last year, he was sitting out and even though he was on the scout team, he’d be on my team sometimes and we started it then,” Crutcher said.
Not one to gush on razzle-dazzle plays, Grant did give the pair this:
“They’re two guys who have really good basketball instincts. Obi has the ability to get you some easy baskets. He has the ability to run and jump.
“And Jalen has the knack for making plays. He finds teammates and puts them in position to do what they do best. That combination works well.”
Asked if – even after a career coaching in the college and NBA ranks– he still was able to marvel at some of the hook-ups Crutcher and Toppin pulled off, Grant channeled a bit of another SpongeBob character:
“Maybe when I go back and watch it in May or June,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of really good basketball. I know it’s an exciting play, but for me it’s just two points and we’ve got to get ready for the next play.
“I guess that’s a sad way to look at it, but I’m just being honest.”
One of the “next” plays between Toppin’s fifth dunk and his final slam came with just 44 seconds left.
Western Michigan’s 6-foot-5 Josh Davis drove to the rim for a layup that Toppin blocked and in the process Davis was knocked to the floor.
As Davis lay there on his stomach beneath the basket, Toppin stood over him and looked down as the nearby Red Scare student section hooted with approval.
When the dominant pose lasted a little too long in the officials’ eyes, he was whistled for a technical His reaction was considered taunting.
Afterward, Toppin tried an explanation that barely got off the ground:
“When I blocked it, I looked down at the ball and I was looking at my feet because there was a black spot on my foot.”
Standing next to him, Crutcher exhaled disbelief.
“No, it looked like it,” a smiling Toppin insisted. “But they said I was staring at the man too long. But it was just reaction.”
Crutcher shook his head: “He could have got the ball. It bounced three times before it went out of bounds. We got on him about that.”
After setting up Toppin out all night long, for his final effort Crutcher just laughed and left his pal flat-footed.
There would be no assist.