The Toppin family took over one section of the stands at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday. Dayton forward Obi Toppin’s mom, Roni, wore a shirt that read, “I’m Obi’s mom.” An aunt wore her version of that shirt.
Obi’s dad, Obadiah Toppin, even got some court time, participating in a shooting contest during a timeout in the first half. The Toppins traveled about two hours to the game from Ossining, N.Y.
The family witnessed in person what fans of the Dayton Flyers have seen all season: a team with potential, a team that can compete with the best teams in college basketball and also a team with weaknesses and inconsistencies that continue to hold it back and make it the definition of average almost a third of the way through the regular season.
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After a 72-67 loss to Tulsa in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase, Dayton sits at 5-5. It has lost to five good teams. It would like to think of itself as a good team and still has three non-conference games and 18 Atlantic 10 games to prove it is. With the losses mounting — five in the last six games — fans are doubting whether the team will ever live up to the potential it showed in close losses to three-top 25 teams.
“I’ve got confidence in my teammates and coaches,” point guard Jalen Crutcher said. “We play great teams. We’ve been in games with great teams, ranked teams. I think we can do something really special this year.”
The wait for that continues. Here are five takeaways from Dayton’s 10th game:
1. Slow start: Dayton trailed Tulsa 15-6 and then 27-13. The early struggles are not new. Oklahoma led Dayton 9-0 and 26-12. Auburn led Dayton 12-2 and 19-6.
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Tulsa (9-3) hit five 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes to grab the early lead. It would make only two more the rest of the game.
“We get down and then we fight so hard to come back and then we come up short at the end,” Dayton forward Josh Cunningham said. “We’ve just to continue to reach that peak and get over the hill. It’s still early in the season.”
2. Big comeback: The Flyers didn’t need much time to get back into the game. They outscored Tulsa 17-3 in the last 5:43, tying the game at 30-30 on two free throws by Toppin with six seconds left.
While Cunningham, who led the team with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, admitted climbing out of a big hole takes a lot out of the players, he didn’t think it excused the loss.
“That’s why we condition the way we do, just for moments like this,” he said. “We can go as long as we need to.”
3. Turning point: Dayton carried the momentum into the second half, building a 41-37 lead on a 3-pointer by Crutcher at the 14:23 mark. That’s when the game turned for the Golden Hurricane. A jump shot by Saint Louis transfer Zeke Moore started a 14-2 run by Tulsa.
Martins Igbanu, who led Tulsa with 17 points, scored six points in that span. Moore ended the run with a 3-pointer.
Dayton produced one basket in a five-minute stretch but then regained its rhythm with Cunningham starting to dominate in the post. It was at that point, however, that Tulsa’s offense found another gear, scoring on seven straight possessions to take a 66-56 lead with 3:41 to play.
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Dayton made one final run, cutting the deficit to 3 in the final minute and getting a good look at the tying 3-pointer. Ryan Mikesell missed his shot from the corner after a pass from Trey Landers. Dayton struggled from long range all night, making 5 of 23. Jalen Crutcher made 4 of 11. The rest of the team made 1 of 12.
Tulsa shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half, taking advantage of Dayton’s foul trouble. Toppin picked up his fourth foul with 7:22 left. Cunningham joined him with his fourth at the 3:41 mark.
“We couldn’t be physical down low,” Crutcher said, “and their big man (Igbanu) just took advantage of it.”
4. Improved stats: What makes this loss extra frustrating for Dayton is it fixed the big issue that plagued it in the 82-72 loss to Auburn. It committed 23 turnovers in that game and only five in this one.
Dayton also had its best night of the season at the free-throw line, making 14 of 17 (82.4 percent). It hit 70 percent twice in the first nine games and was shooting 65.4 percent entering the game.
Despite those numbers, the result stayed the same. This was Dayton’s third loss by seven points or fewer. In four of its five losses, Dayton has held the lead at some point in the second half.
5. Big picture: Dayton still doesn’t have a bad loss on its resume. Tulsa ranks 124th in the Ken Pomeroy ratings. The Flyers play No. 202 Western Michigan and No. 269 Presbyterian this week before getting one more chance at a decent victory in their final non-conference game Dec. 29 against No. 132 Georgia Southern.