Obi Toppin had two relationships in play Saturday night at UD Arena.
One was a mother-and-son connection.
The other was an “old married couple” type deal.
The 6-foot-9 standout of the Dayton Flyers basketball team turned in a dominating performance in a closer-than-expected 86-81 victory over Indiana State in the season opener at the newly renovated, sold out Arena.
He scored a career-high 29 points on a variety of shots – including six dunks, most of them rim-rattling – and he had 12 rebounds.
His game was one of the presents he had for his mom, Roni, who had come in from New York for the game.
“Her birthday is today so I definitely had to put on a show for her,” he said afterward. ”Her being here means a lot. She’s done so much for me. She helped me get to where I am now and I’m glad she got to experience her first game in the beautiful new arena.”
“Did you get her anything else?” he was asked.
“Of course I got her a present,” he said a bit incredulously. “I’m taking her to dinner afterward – it’s up to her where – and I got her something else, too. It’s a surprise though.
“But she’ll put it on Instagram sometime.”
One thing that was anything but secret during Saturday’s game was Toppin’s ongoing relationship with junior guard Jalen Crutcher.
The playmaker from Memphis and the high-flyer with Brooklyn roots have a real connection, one that often has produced the spectacular ally-oop dunks that get the Arena rocking.
“Me and Jalen do have a connection,” Toppin said. “We know when he’s got the ball and I set a screen it’s either going to be a lob to me or a lay-up for him.”
Three of Crutcher’s six assists Saturday went to Toppin. Along with the set up for a dunk, Crutcher fed him a pass for a jumper in the paint and then late in the game found him on the baseline for a three pointer when the Sycamores had cut a 12-point lead down to six.
But the pair’s on-court relationship in only the tip of the iceberg with them.
“Jalen’s like my twin,” Toppin said. “Me and him have that mindset. We can just look at each other and tell what we’re saying to each other. Me and him are just really close. We’re roommates.”
Crutcher agreed: “We do everything together. We go everywhere together. And when we’re hungry, I’ll say ‘Whacha wanna eat?’
“He’ll say something and I’m like, ‘I wanted that, too!’”
“You two sound like an old married couple,” said a Flyers website writer.
“Yeah, right,” Crutcher said. “Since freshman year when we got to campus, we just been hanging out together.
“The other freshmen who came in were really quiet. Jordan Davis was really quiet, Jordan Pierce was really quiet. So it was just me and Obi talking to each other.”
“After freshman year we went to Coach and said, ‘We got to be roommates.’ And now pretty much everyplace he goes I go, too.”
One place the two went to together that freshman year was the gym for after-practice workouts.
“We stayed up in Marycrest, but we’d come down to the gym to get extra shots,” Toppin said. “Even when I was sitting out, we’d work on things. We’d work on lobs.”
Their connection paid off. Toppin had a breakout season last year and finished as the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, the first Flyer ever to win that designation, Crutcher was a third team All Atlantc 10 selection.
Toppin blossomed so much last season that he drew pro interest and declared for the NBA draft following the year.
He worked out for six teams, raised his stock with those who got to see his on-court potential and off-court effervescence and then decided to return to school this season. If he continues to develop, he may well be a first round NBA pick next year.
Yet with all that hype he said he felt no extra pressure Saturday night: “No, I don’t feel pressure. It’s just basketball to be played. I’ve been through so much. Now I don’t feel any pressure.”
He made 10 of 16 field goal attempts and coming down the stretch – in a game where Indiana State would get within one point, 82-81 with 16 seconds left – he not only hit the three pointer, but scored three of UD’s last four points on free throws.
“Coach kept telling us, ‘Get the ball to Obi because nobody can stop him,’” Crutcher said. “And we got it to him as many times as we could in the paint.”
After the game Grant praised his team: “They understood he had an advantage and we were able to exploit that a little bit and it paid dividends.”
Toppin was proud to have put on a show for his mom — a special education teacher — who has done so much for him. And that includes advising him to come back to UD this season and grow more as a person and a ballplayer.
And of course that’s meant another year with Crutcher.
Yet, for all their similarities there are a couple of differences, Toppin said:
“He’s more quiet. I’m more open. I like to talk to people and brighten up their day.”
And in Saturday’s opener – in a spruced-up Arena with its brilliantly-lit Blackburn Court – Obi Toppin made the night even brighter for UD fans.