UD’s Josh Cunningham and Obi Toppin captured the real estate under the basket the way U.S. Grant took downtown Richmond. And their zone defense turned Richmond into Itsy-Bitsy Spiders..
Except in this story University of Dayton basketball coach Anthony Grant and his Flyers didn’t have to dodge bullets from the University of Richmond team the way general Ulysses S. Grant and his Union troops did when they to0k the city of Richmond from the Confederacy during the Civil War.
And if the Richmond basketball team had to defend their city, the city was a quick goner because the Spiders were The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.
Stymied and stifled by a fortress-like UD zone defense, Richmond shot .295 from the field (18 for 61), .289 from the three-point line (11 for 38) and .143 from the foul line (1 for 7).
The impenetrable zone prevented Richmond from shoving the ball inside to leading scorer Grant Golden, averaging 19.6 points a game. The Spiders needed UPS or FedEx to get him the ball, but they don’t deliver on Sunday.
So Golden left UD Arena Sunday afternoon extremely tarnished — four points on two baskets and only seven shots.
Meanwhile, UD’s Josh Cunningham and Obi Toppin captured the real estate under the basket the way U.S. Grant took downtown Richmond.
With Cunningham scoring 24, including his 1,000th career point, and Toppin scoring 16 — the only Flyers in double figures — UD scored a 72-48 victory in their Atlantic 10 Conference opener.
The dominance of Cunningham (11 for 14) and Toppin 8 for 14) was needed because guards Jalen Crutcher and Jordan Davis took a rare day off. Crutcher scored just eight (3 for 10, 1 for 8 from three) and Davis didn’t score (0 for 5, 0 for 4 from three).
But their scoring wasn’t needed because Richmond couldn’t have hit the Great Miami River if its players were standing on the shore and Cunningham was a first-half beast with 16 of his 24 and Toppin scored 12 of his 16 in the second half.
Although Toppin doesn’t start and usually enters the game five minutes in, the pair is a Dominant Duo — The High Flyer (Toppin) and The Bulldog (Cunningham).
And for one of the rare times this season, the Flyers didn’t lift their sneakers off the accelerator in the second half when they had the opponent gasping for breath after the first half.
The Flyers constructed a 29-18 first half lead when Richmond went nearly eight minutes without a point late in the half. They started the second half on a 10-2 breakout and it was 39-20 with 16 minutes left and Richmond put away its party favors.
“We put some halves together today,” said Cunningham. “We worked on it in practice all week. We’ve been drilled on coming out in the second half and finish the game. That’s what we did today.”
Cunningham’s 1,000th career point came on a free throw with 6:06 left in the first half.
“I had no clue at all I scored my thousandth,” said Cunningham. “It was shocking when they announced it and I said, ‘Oh.’ It’s great to do it at home and for my teammates, my brothers.”
When asked about the zippy zone the Flyers used that had Golden bewitched, bothered and more than bewildered, with Cunningham in his face most of the time, Cunningham said, “They couldn’t get him the ball the way they are used to doing it, couldn’t feed him. We got everybody where they needed to be (on defense) and he usually gets his stuff close to the basket. We just played great defense.”
Cunningham answered quickly and emphatically when somebody asked if he and Toppin are a one-two punch.
“Yes, we are,” he said. “Obi is a high flier, a great guy and he can do it all. He has athleticism and the ability to score around the basket and rebound.”
While Cunningham gets most of his baskets that begin with an old-fashioned drop step and wheel to the hoop, Toppin plays above the rim. He had three more dunks Sunday, including two off rebounds when the ball hit the rim and bounded into the air. Toppin snagged them and forcefully dunked them home.
“We had a chance to play with each other over the summer and we learned each other and know we can do what we do in games,” said Cunningham. “He is more crazy and goofy than I am, for sure. I’m the older brother, the calm one and I have to keep him calm.”
Said Toppin, “Josh was just dominating in the first half in the paint.” The Flyers should do a commercial for Sherwin-Williams after outscoring Richmond in the paint, 54-12.
“In the second half, Josh just talked me through the whole second half,” said Toppin. “Yes, I’m the High Flyer and he’s The Bulldog. You see him trying to bully his way through everybody.”
Of the Flyers finally splicing two halves together, Toppin said, “Yeah, we played two really good halves. Coach congratulated us when we got upstairs (to the locker room). He told us it was a really good game for us because we came out strong and played the second half strong.”
Toppin said the drop-step move Cunningham uses is something he’d like to incorporate.
“That’s something I need to work on,” he said. “Josh said we need to go to the lab and work on it. It’s definitely an old-time move.”
Toppin, though, likes to talk about his dunks, especially the slams off missed shots.
Toppin, who enacted a between-the-legs dunk against Georgia Southern, said he saw Duke’s Zion Williamson perform his 360-degree dunk Saturday against Clemson.
Can he do it?
“I saw my dunk (on video) and it was something in the moment, and it’s time to move on,” he said. “I saw Williamson’s dunk on Twitter this morning. I always do that. . .in practice.”
Grant was most impressed that his team played a full 40 minutes instead of doing a 20/20 — 20 good followed by 20 bad.
“I was proud of the effort because our guys put together two good halves,” he said. “Defensively, we set the tone. We eliminated their easy shots. And we got out in transitions for some easy baskets and imposed our will in the post (Cunningham, Toppin).
“Josh Cunningham was dominant,” Grant added. “His offensive numbers speak for themselves. But his voice on the defensive end, he was the anchor in our zone. From where he was he could see the movement and with his awareness and his voice he kept everybody engaged defensively.”
And, oh, by the way. Cunningham snagged 10 rebounds for a double-double.
The Flyers didn’t know what they would get from Richmond, which came in 6-and-7. The Spiders own victories over Wake Forest and IUPUI, but they also suffered defeats to Longwood and Hampton.
The Flyers made certain it was the Longwood-Hampton version that showed up Sunday and UD turned Richmond into Itsy-Bitsy Spiders..