The High Flyer and the Bulldog.
As was the case Sunday when they combined for 41 points and 19 rebounds in an easy 72-48 victory over Richmond at UD Arena, Obi Toppin and Josh Cunningham are often the 1-2 punch for the Dayton Flyers this season.
And each has a name for the other.
“Oh yeah, he’s the High Flyer,” Cunningham, the 6-foot-8 redshirt senior who topped the 1,000 career points mark against the Spiders, said of Toppin. “His athletic ability to soar around the basket is amazing. It’s great to know that somebody next to you goes all out every play and can do the things he does.”
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Toppin, the 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman, is just as impressed with Cunningham:
“I’m the High Flyer and he’s the Bulldog. You see him try to bully his way through everybody inside….It’s hard for anybody to stop him.”
Toppin is right.
Cunningham has made himself a force inside. He’s a workhorse who relies on muscle and will and often sets up his moves with a drop step that catches a slow-to-react defender off guard and gives him an advantage bulldogging his way to the rim.
With Toppin, it’s not about deception, just acceleration.
All long legs and long arms, he soars above the rim to corral teammates’ alley oop passes and jam them home.
Just as their games are different, so are their personalities.
The High Flyer is playful and lighthearted and can be flighty. Cunningham is more low key. He’s steadfast and dogged.
You saw some of this after the game when the pair showed up in the media room to talk about the game.
As the media throng gathered around Cunningham, Toppin teased him with a high-pitched voice a few feet away.
“Oh my gosh,” Cunningham said shaking his head.
When Toppin kept it up, the grinning Cunningham finally said, “Sshhh!”
“He’s more crazy and goofy for sure,” Cunningham said. “I’m the calm one. I’m like the older brother. I got to keep him calm.”
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Toppin admitted later that he’s trying to learn from Cunningham and you saw an example of that on the court late in the second half.
With 6:22 left, he took a Jalen Crutcher lob pass on a fast break and dunked.
The next time down the court, Toppin got the ball down low and unable to take flight, he opted for a little baseline bow wow of his own.
He tried to set up his own bulldog move with his version of the drop step. It needed polish, fooled no one and his lay-up attempt was partially blocked.
“Yeah, I did try it, but it’s something I got to work on,” he explained later with a smile. “It’s definitely an old-time move. (Josh) said we were gonna go to the lab and work on it.”
The two feed off each other regularly now, but their connection actually began last season when Toppin sat out the year as an academic redshirt. They practiced together and got to know each other’s games. It continued over the summer, Cunningham said, and now is paying dividends.
Sunday the pair came into the game as two of the leaders in field goal percentage in the Atlantic 10. Toppin was No. 2 in the league, shooting 73.3 percent. Cunningham was fourth at 65.4 percent.
Sunday, Cunningham made 11 of 14 fed goal attempts for 25 points and had 10 rebounds. Toppin hit 8 of 14 shots for 16 points, had nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
They’ve been just as commanding in several other games this year. Against both Georgia Southern and Western Michigan, they combined for 47 points. Against Detroit they had 44 points. The 9-5 Flyers won all those games
Sunday, Cunningham was the force in the first half, scoring 16 points. Toppin had 12 of his points in the second half.
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“Josh dominated in the paint in the first half,” said Toppin. “He just talked me through the whole second half.”
When the two left the court at the end of the game and began to walk up the steep arena ramp toward their Donoher Center dressing room, they were side by side again.
“When we were walking up the ramp I was explaining to him what we have to do,” Cunningham said. “I try to give him words of encouragement. I’m the old guy on the team, I’m just trying to pass it on to him.
“He’s going be a great player. He’s a great player now. And he’s going to continue to grow and get better and better. We’re going to continue to work together and I’m going to help him as much as I can.”
Later head coach Anthony Grant praised both players.
He called Cunningham’s performance “dominant.” And he wasn’t just talking about his offense, but also the defensive effort he made on Richmond’s 6-foot-10 Grant Golden. The Spiders leading scorer – he averages 19.5 pionts per game – was held to just 4 points.
When Toppin’s name came up, a Bellefontaine radio man made an overblown comparison:
“He’s got some hops. He reminds me a little bit of a young Anthony Grant.”
The UD coach – who played for the Flyers in the 1980s – was taken aback by the claim.
“Who? Grant said shaking his head. “Your memory is worse than mine if you think our games resemble each other in ANY kind of way.”
Grant then talked about Toppin’s God-given abilities and how – just 14 games into his college career – he’s learning each time he takes the floor.
The coach seemed pleased when he heard about the Cunningham-Toppin conversation coming up the ramp:
“All our guys enjoy each other. They respect each other and I think they learn from each other.
“One of the hardest things for anybody is to allow yourself to be held accountable. Obi, as a young man, is understanding that a guy like Josh, who has been in college five years, has been through some things that he’s yet to see as a freshman.”
Cunningham began his college career at Bradley, transferred to UD, had to sit out a year, missed much of the next year after he suffered a terrible ankle injury and since then has become the cornerstone of the Flyers.
With Sunday’s output he’s now scored 1,013 points at Bradley and UD.
Grant said Toppin can draw on all of that:
“He can take that knowledge and it will help him grow. He can learn a lot.”
And one day, the High Flyer may even show he’s a bit of Bulldog, too.
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