The best show of the night wasn’t Toppin vs. Toppin.
It was Toppin vs. some needling University of Dayton students.
The sideshow part of Tuesday night’s showdown of Atlantic 10 heavyweights Dayton and Rhode Island at UD Arena was the first college game between the Flyers’ 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin and his younger brother, Jacob, a 6-foot-8, come-off-the-bench freshman for the Rams.
In the days leading up to the game, both brothers had taken part in some good-natured back and forth banter about who was the better dunker and what one would do to the other.
Once the game started, it wasn’t Cain vs. Abel, but it certainly wasn’t all brotherly love either.
Jacob – who looks more like a young colt next to his muscled Pegasus of a brother – got into the game with 14:43 left in the first half.
Just 81 seconds later he got the ball deep on the baseline and launched a three-point attempt that Obi lunged toward and blocked.
Immediately, a chant rose up from the Red Scare section of UD students and pep band members:
“Obi’s better!…Obi’s better!…Obi’s better!”
Sitting next to the band in Section 110 was Roni Toppin, Obi and Jacob’s mom. She wore what she called her “split team” jersey.
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Half was Jacob’s blue-trimmed No. 21 jersey and the other half was Obi’s red-bordered top. They had been sewn together so that the name across the front was a mix of each team -- RHOTON – above the 2 from Jacob’s shirt and Obi’s 1.
“My God, it was a great night, but it was a little overwhelming and nerve wracking,” Roni said with a smile afterward. “I cheered for both teams, but my brain was confused.”
But her focus sharpened and her protectiveness took over when she heard the chants, which were repeated a couple more times throughout the game:
“I didn’t really like the band yelling, but they do what they do,” she shrugged. “But that’s when I had to get up and do my own yelling. That’s when I got up and started screaming:
“’Obi’s older!…Obi’s older!…Obi’s older!’”
Obi is two years older than Jacob, 30 pounds heavier and has far more college experience and it showed Tuesday night.
Seniority reigned supreme on this night.
Dayton ran roughshod over Rhode Island, 81-67, in a game that wasn’t that close. The Flyers jumped to a 17-0 lead to start the game and with 7:34 left they led by 25.
Jacob, who played just 15 minutes to his brother’s 34:31, had four points and three rebounds.
Obi finished with 22 points. 10 rebounds and three dunks, one of which – a left-handed windmill slam – was No. 1 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays of the Day.
It came early in the second half after he juked one Rams’ defender out of the way and then roared away from Jacob, who could only manage a late-slapping swipe which was whistled for a foul.
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It did not hamper his brother’s TV-time rim rocker.
“Didn’t I tell you the other day I was going to put Jacob on SportsCenter?” Obi said teasingly afterward.
After he game, Roni, who was part of a big Toppin cheering section that included the boys’ dad, Obadiah, as well, said she sat the first half of the game with the parents of the other Dayton players and the second half she spent behind the Rhode Island bench.
“I cheered for both my boys,” she said. “When I sat on the Dayton side and cheered for Rhode Island, everybody looked at me. When I was cheering for Dayton on the Rhode Island side, everybody was just quiet.”
She said she thought her younger son was ”a little nervous” at the start, but “he shook it off and got better.”
As for Obi, she shrugged and smiled: “He treated Jacob like his little brother.”
The boys’ dad agreed: “Big brother kinda bullied his little brother.”
Jacob did have a couple of step-up moments though. When Obi was holding his jersey late in the first half and was called for a foul, he calmly sank both free throws. Then just before the half ended he blocked a Trey Landers lay-up attempt.
After the game, Obi hugged his brother warmly in the handshake line and then again about a minute later.
“I love my brother to death,” he said. “We’re super close and as soon as the game was over, I was talking to him, letting him know how I felt. I said, ‘Keep your head up. Keep working and you’re going to be doing good things soon.’”
While Toppin verus Toppin was a much-ballyhooed sidelight, the real marque event was, as Obi noted, was the matchup of “the two best teams in the A-10”:
“We been thinking that they’re on a 10-0 run (in the league) and we’re on a 10-0 run and we didn’t want to break our streak.”
He called it ”a statement game” for the No. 6 ranked, 22-2 Flyers.
But for all the lofty achievement in the Flyers rout of the 18-6 Rams, it became an ugly affair thanks, in part, to referees eager to blow their whistles.
There were 52 fouls called – 29 on UD, 23 on the Rams – and that’s a record for a Dayton game this season. The second most were 45 when the Flyers lost in overtime to Kansas.
There were seven technical calls — three on UD, four on Rhode Island — and two Flyers fouled out.
And there also were “five or six” stitches — Rams’ point guard Fatts Russell, the A-10’s leading scorer, wasn’t sure afterward.
The only thing he did know was that that the injury above his right eye came when the Flyers Rodney Chatman dived into him on a scrum on the floor and his head slammed off the court.
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Both players were whistled for technicals. Russell then went to the dressing room and got butterfly stitches and a bandage put over them
“I didn’t know what was going on with some of those,” Obi said. “We knew the refs would be very strict with us today just because we started early with the talking. We knew that the first word that was gonna be said to another player, it was gonna be a tech. We were just in the heat of the game.”
Afterward, while he lamented the fact that a game between two good teams was “marred” by so many fouls, Flyers coach Anthony Grant said he didn’t think there was anything “malicious” on either side.
And though the Toppin brothers matchup was especially spirited, Obi said there was no real talking between them, especially when he blocked Jacob’s shot:
”I wasn’t gonna let my little brother score on me. I couldn’t let that happen.
“But naah…I didn’t think I had to say anything after that. It was just: ‘Don’t try it again!’”
The boys’ dad —himself something of a playground hoops legend back in New York City – smiled when he thought about that moment:
“They’re both very competitive with each other. Obi leaves it all on the floor. He’s a very good player. Jacob is young. He was thrown into the fire, but he’ll get better and better. He’s a work in progress.
“And tonight, I think, this just sets the tone for the next time the two meet each other. I’m sure that will be a good one.
“Both of them will remember what happened tonight.”
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