Anthony Grant led 3-year-old Delilah Riccardi by the hand down the hallway to the Dayton Flyers locker room after a 72-48 victory against Massachusetts on Tuesday.
Grant cracked opened the door and called for his leading scorer.
“Obadiah,” Grant said.
Moments later, Obi Toppin appeared to greet his cousin with a kiss on the cheek. She was one of a number of his family members — including his mom, aunt and grandpa — to travel to the Mullins Center. The Toppin family has been a fixture at road games because they live in Ossining, N.Y., which puts them in driving distance of UMass, Fordham, Rhode Island, etc.
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Toppin has rewarded them more often than not with excellent play during his redshirt freshman season, and he and his teammates were on top of their game in the second-to-last road game on the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule.
Toppin scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and delivered one of the more remarkable two-minute stretches anyone has seen, dunking four times in quick succession late in the first half to set the single-season Dayton record for dunks and push the Flyers to a 40-18 halftime lead.
“The first half was really fun,” Toppin said. “We came in with a lot of energy and dominated. We did what we were supposed to do on the scouting report. We felt good about it.”
The Flyers (19-9, 11-4) have plenty to feel good about with three games left in the regular season. Everything has come together in the last three games, boosting hopes this team can make a run in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s first regular-season victory at UMass since 2004:
1. Record breaker: Toppin entered the game tied with Chris Wright with 66 dunks. He dunked six ties and now has 72.
“I’m excited,” Toppin said. “I wanted to get it at home.”
Wright, who remains the UD career record holder with 177 dunks, congratulated Toppin on Twitter.
“Keep flying high, lil bro!” Wright wrote.
If Toppin’s family didn’t see him breaking the dunks record in his first season on the court in college basketball — who could have predicted that? — his mom had confidence she would see something special.
“I was excited to share him with the world,” Roni Toppin said. “His mental growth — besides his physical growth, that’s obvious — but how much he’s grown the last two years is insane.”
2. First-half run: UMass had a brief glimmer of hope, building an 8-2 lead in the first three minutes. That hope evaporated as Dayton began a 16-2 run. Another 16-2 run later in the half extended the lead to as many as 26 points.
Dayton shot 82.4 percent (14 of 17) from the field in the first half. It was the second-best mark in a single half in school history.
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This was the third first half in a row on the road Dayton has built a double-digit lead. It led 41-27 at Rhode Island on Feb. 9 and 37-25 at Davidson on Feb. 19. The Flyers, who improved to 6-2 on the road in A-10 play, have won three straight games. It’s their fourth winning streak of at least that many games this season.
“This is definitely the perfect time to be bonding and connecting because it’s tournament time,”Dayton forward Josh Cunningham said, “and March is right around the corner. This is the most important time of the year.”
3. Depleted squad: UMass (10-18, 3-12) played without five injured players, three of whom started in a 72-67 loss at Dayton on Jan. 13. Luwane Pipkins, Rashaan Holloway, Samba Diallo all missed the game, as did reserves Khalea Turner-Morris and Curtis Cobb.
A nightmarish season continued for second-year UMass coach Matt McCall, whose team swept Dayton a season ago. He said his team is a “mash unit” right now, but didn’t use that as an excuse.
“We didn’t bring it,” McCall said. “We didn’t play hard. We didn’t compete. We acted like we didn’t want to be there.”
4. Continued excellence: Cunningham scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting. In the last three games, he has made 18 of 19 shots from the field.
“We know that’s what Josh is capable of,” Grant said. “I think Josh understands what we need out of him, especially down the stretch.”
5. Big picture: The Flyers trail Virginia Commonwealth (22-6, 13-4) by two games and Davidson (20-7, 11-3) by a half game. Duquesne, George Mason and St. Bonaventure (all 9-5) trail Dayton by 1½ games.
Dayton, which plays Rhode Island and La Salle at home in its next two games, took another step toward securing a top-four seed and a double-bye in the A-10 tournament.
The Toppin family can’t wait to see the team play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in March.
“You don’t know how many New York fans are Dayton fans now,” Roni Toppin said. “We’re so excited for Brooklyn.”
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