Duquesne knows it needs low-scoring game to beat Dayton Flyers

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Highlights: Dayton goes on 28-6 run vs. Richmond

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

UD seeks 10th straight victory Wednesday in Pittsburgh

Dayton Flyers forward Obi Toppin always knows where to find the camera. Often he doesn’t have to search. It finds him. There was a moment Saturday at Richmond, however, when Toppin showed he’s as much entertainer as basketball player.

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As the ESPN cameras focused on Ibi Watson shooting free throws in the final minute of Dayton's 87-79 victory, Toppin appeared in the background, looked straight at the camera and waved with both hands. He had good reason to celebrate after another dominant performance — 24 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists — that pushes him even closer to becoming the first Dayton player to win the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year award.

Toppin winning that award might the safest bet around in a college basketball season full of surprises. Richmond’s Chris Mooney, one of the 14 coaches to vote in the year-end awards, called Toppin the best player he’s seen in the A-10, and he has coached in the league since 2005.

“He’s so comfortable on the perimeter,” Mooney said. “He’s really a good passer, an incredibly-willing passer for a guy who scores so much. His athleticism is just other-worldly. He’s sensational. I’d say he’s probably the best I’ve seen, and he’ll take his talents to the NBA.”

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As good as Toppin has been, his teammate Jalen Crutcher has been even better the last four games, outscoring Toppin 88-86. They have taken their games to new levels with their consistency in A-10 play and have gotten strong support from Trey Landers, Ibi Watson and Ryan Mikesell — all of whom rank in the top 100 in the nation in offensive rating, according to KenPom.com — as well as the rest of the rotation.

Everyone's playing their role. The Flyers (18-2, 7-0), ranked seventh in the country for the second straight week, have won nine straight. They have had only one scare — a 78-76 overtime victory at Saint Louis on Jan. 17 — in a challenging five-game stretch that continues at 7 p.m. Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

Duquesne (15-4, 5-2) is another opponent with the potential to pull an upset. Of course, that has been said often this season, and the Flyers have yet to stumble, losing only to two ranked teams — No. 3 Kansas and No. 20 Colorado — in overtime.

Here are three things to know about this game:

1. Duquesne has come back to earth in its last two games: The Dukes started 5-0 in A-10 play but then lost 77-55 at Rhode Island (14-5, 6-1) and 73-64 at Massachusetts (8-12, 2-5). The first loss would have been predicted by most fans. The second loss was more of a head-scratcher because UMass had lost four straight games.

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“We went to Rhode Island and played a pretty good first half,” Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot told reporters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, “and then we got smacked in the mouth and things didn’t go great. Then we go to UMass and we were gone all week and just didn’t play great. But we haven’t played great for two or three weeks. It’s a long year. Everyone goes through it. Even the best teams in the country have issues. We have to score better. There’s no doubt about that. At some point, you get demoralized when the ball doesn’t go in the basket.”

2. Dayton's offense will be a challenge for Duquesne: In A-10 games, Dayton is shooting a league-best 51.6 percent from the field, while Duquesne has the best field-goal percentage defense (37.8).

The Flyers have scored 80 or more points in five of seven games. The Dukes haven’t hit 80 points since Dec. 21 and have scored fewer than 70 in their last four games.

“We’re not winning the games in the 80s because we haven’t been capable of scoring in the 80s,” Dambrot said. “(Dayton’s) capable of scoring 80. If it’s a fast game, they’re going to kick our (butt).”

3. Despite the recent slump, Dambrot has turned Duquesne around: The former Akron coach is in his third year with the Dukes. The program did not have a winning season in the previous five years under Jim Ferry.

The 15-4 record is Duquesne’s best through 19 games since 1971-72. That record is a big deceiving, however, because the Dukes did not beat anyone better than Indiana State, which ranks 117th in the Pomeroy ratings, in non-conference play. Its best victories are against Saint Louis and Davidson, ranked No. 86 and No. 89, respectively.

“Coach Dambrot has done a great job wherever he’s been,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “The way he builds teams, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he does. This year’s team has a lot of the same pieces they had last year. Guys are a year older.”


WEDNESDAY’S GAME

Dayton at Duquesne, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 1290 and 95.7 WHIO