Dayton’s Obi Toppin dunks against Duquesne on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Duquesne coach: Dayton’s Toppin ‘a force to be reckoned with’

At halfway point in A-10 season, Toppin may be the league’s top rookie

However, Toppin appears to be getting better and better. He has increased his points total in seven straight games (3, 8, 10, 11, 19, 25 and 26), and his season dunks total stands at 59 — seven away from tying Chris Wright’s school record — after six slams Saturday in a 68-64 victory against Duquesne.

Toppin had one of the most important baskets of the game against the Dukes, catching an alley-oop pass from Trey Landers to give Dayton a 64-62 lead with 2:28 to play. Toppin faked a move toward the 3-point line before cutting back to the basket, fooling the defender covering him and then catching the pass and scoring.

DUQUESNE GAME: Four ways Dayton won | Cunningham on bench during second-half run | 20 photos

Duquesne knew all about Toppin. He’s no surprise at this point. Even with Josh Cunningham on the bench for the last 17 minutes of the second half, the Dukes couldn’t stop Toppin.

“I’ve been around the game a long time,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot told Pittsburgh Sports Now after the game. “My gut is he’s probably a NBA pro. That’s what the NBA guys are looking for right now is big people running to the rim, setting ball screens, because you can’t guard the rim. He lets the game come to him. As he gets stronger, he’s a force to be reckoned with. They just better hope he doesn’t go too soon.”

Toppin’s emergence as a A-10 Rookie of the Year candidate has been one of the top stories in the first half of conference play. Eight of the 14 teams have played nine of the 18 league games. Here’s where the conference stands at the halfway point:

Conference favorite: Davidson (16-5, 7-1) leads George Mason (15-7, 7-2) by a half game, and it will be hard to stop the Wildcats in the next five weeks.

» RECRUITING: Top-100 prospect visits Dayton

Davidson caught a break in scheduling because they play the five teams behind them in the standings — George Mason, Dayton, Duquesne, Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis — only once. They already beat Duquesne, George Mason, VCU and Saint Louis.

Player of the year race: While Charlie Brown leads the A-10 in scoring (20.1 points per game), this award always goes to someone from a team ranked in the top five of the standings. The Hawks (10-12, 3-6) are 11th. That makes Davidson sophomore guard Kellan Grady, the league’s second-leading scorer (18.1), the favorite.

Most improved: Duquesne (15-7, 6-3) was picked to finish 11th and sits alone in fifth place. It finished 10th last season and last two seasons ago. It has not finished in the top half of the standings since it placed fourth with a 10-6 mark in 2010-11.

Most disappointing: Take your pick. Saint Joseph’s was picked second but has fallen in the standings in part because of injuries.

Massachusetts (8-14, 1-8) was picked to finish eighth and has fallen to 13th, right where it finished last season at 5-13. Saint Louis (14-8, 5-4) is also competing with this title. It has lost four straight games after a 5-0 start.

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