Roni Toppin brought two birthday cakes to the Ryan Center. One Dayton Flyers-themed cake featured a photo of her son Obi, who turned 22 on Wednesday, on the top. The other had Rhode Island colors for her son Jacob. Both were delivered to the locker rooms before the game.
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Roni will wait until Saturday to give Obi the real gift, however: her presence at UD Arena. She hadn’t planned to return to Dayton this season but will be there for the regular-season finale against George Washington.
“He gave me a guilt trip,” Roni said.
Obi told her, “It’s my senior night, mom.”
“I better get a rose then,” Obi told her.
It’s not technically Toppin’s senior night — he’s a redshirt sophomore with two seasons of eligibility remaining — but everyone knows this will be his last game in Dayton. The NBA awaits for the national player of the year favorite. That’s no secret. All the draft experts see him as a lottery pick. He’s the age of a college senior. There are too many reasons not to turn professional.
Still, Toppin had not faced the NBA question until Wednesday because this season has been too special to think too much about the future. It’s an announcement that can wait.
“I’m not ready to say it,” Toppin said. “We’re not done with the season yet.”
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That season may not end until April. That's when the Final Four will be held in Atlanta. The way No. 3 Dayton (28-2, 17-0) is playing, anything less than that will be a disappointment. It demolished Rhode Island at the Ryan Center for the second straight season, winning 84-57 one year after a 77-48 victory.
Toppin scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting, falling two points short of his age, so the night wasn’t a total success. He had plenty of other reasons to celebrate, however. He threw down a tomahawk dunk in front of the student section in the second half and then glared at the fans who brought signs reading “Jacob Obi” and “Jacob’s cuter” and “We got mom’s favorite.” It was payback for Rhode Island fans, who must have heard about Dayton fans chanting “Obi’s better” when Rhode Island visited UD in February.
Roni took offense to the Dayton chants then and talked to one of the students holding the “Jacob Obi” sign before this game. Asked what she told them, the student said, “She didn’t like the sign.”
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The signs did not prevent Toppin from dominating the Rams, though his brother scored a small victory by preventing him from dunking on one play in the second half. Jacob fouled Obi, who then made 1 of 2 free throws. Obi was not happy about the play, but his mom celebrated in the stands. Her postgame quote on the play was, “Yes, Jacob!”
After the game, Roni, Obi and Jacob all converged outside the Dayton locker room as Obi talked to reporters.
“Why did you foul me?” Obi said.
“First of all, you’re not dunking on me,” Jacob said.
Then talk turned to that birthday cake. Toppin’s teammate, Dwayne Cohill, approached the interview session to ask Toppin why he hadn’t gotten a piece yet.
Toppin admitted he asked for cheesecake while describing the cake he did get as amazing. He planned to savor it on the trip to the airport where Dayton had a late charter flight home after the 9 p.m. game.
“On the bus, I’m going to tear it up,” Toppin said.