Obi Toppin put on an individual show…and the Dayton Flyers rallied behind him to put on a collective one, blasting Charleston Southern in a tune-up for the upcoming Maui Invitational tournament.
That’s the task University of Dayton basketball coach Anthony Grant and his players are facing with eight days remaining before they board a jet airliner for Hawaii to play three games in as many days in the high-profile Maui Invitational. Game 1 is against Georgia and Game 2 could be Michigan State.
Expectations are running so high among Flyers fans with the addition of three transfers and forward Jhery Matos returning from injury that games against the likes of Charleston Southern on Saturday night might be looked on as warm-ups.
But important puzzle pieces such as point guard Rodney Chatman, forward Chase Johnson and shooting guard Ibi Watson are playing games that count for the first time in a year and injured center Jordy Tshimanga has yet to join the party.
“I feel like we’ve gone through so much in the off-season and during the summer that our connection is really close,’’ junior center-forward Obi Toppin said. “It’s just a matter of buying into what the coaches are telling us to do. We don’t have a problem with the transition.’’
Dayton hiccuped a little bit in the first half, but there was a happy ending as Toppin totaled 21 points, 11 rebounds and two steals in leading four others in double figures in a 90-61 dissection of the Buccaneers before 13,407 at UD Arena.
Toppin had six dunks and looked every bit the NBA draft pick he might become next June.
Ryan Mikesell and Chatman each had 14 points and Jalen Crutcher sparkled with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
At times in the first half, though, the Flyers (2-0) gave up back-door lay-ups and some drives right down the free throw lane. They had 11 turnovers in the half and 17 for the game.
“We have to understand that this is a process,’’ Grant said. “It’s not a sprint. It’s not a one-game season. Every game, hopefully we’ll get a little bit better and understand what allows us to get better offensively and defensively and become the team we think we can become.’’
There are five walk-ons on the roster rather than the usual three because the coaches want players in the rotation to practice together rather than against one another.
Maybe that’s why Dayton had an astounding 27 assists on 37 baskets. Chatman had eight feeds to lead the way.
“We had a high turnover tonight but when I go back and look at it, it might be guys trying to get guys shots,’’ Grant said. “It’s always great to see guys sharing it. Seventy-three percent of our baskets were assisted on tonight, which is outstanding.’’
The Flyers came out looking like they might hang 120 points on Charleston Southern by taking a 14-0 lead with 16:16 left in the first half.
But the Buccaneers were just as impressive getting to within 18-16 on a three-pointer from the side by scoring machine Dontrell Shuler.
UD was cuddling a 28-25 lead when it got back into rhythm. It ended the half on a 10-2 run that was capped by a driving lay-up by Trey Landers to make it 46-33.
Grant forced the issue on Charleston Southern at the beginning of the second half when he had his guards pressure the ball as soon as it crossed mid-court.
The outcome was pretty much settled after Toppin dunked on a fast break, Mikesell had a lay-up and Toppin had a follow for a 54-38 lead with 16:21 left to play.
“Coach got on us at halftime, so we definitely had to pick it up in the second half,’’ Toppin said. “We came out and just showed everything we had. It wasn’t about the score. It was about our team as a whole. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, we’ve got to go out and dominate and not hold back anything.’’
Chatman said the players were determined to play better in the second half, and to do that meant putting the heat on Charleston Southern.
“We weren’t happy. It was lack of effort,’’ he said. “Defensively, we went over some breakdowns. That’s a team that likes to run offense. Applying pressure made it difficult for them.’’
The face for the new look Flyers could start with Chatman in that he has taken over the primary ball-handling job with Crutcher having been moved to shooting guard.
Chatman also is coming back from a fractured orbital bone that he suffered taking a stray elbow in open gym during the summer.
When it the protective mask coming off?
“It’s my mom’s decision,’’ he said. “She doesn’t want me to take it off because she’s scared. I might just wear it until she feels comfortable.’’
Grant couldn’t care less when the mask comes off if Chatman keeps it up.
“The ball really moved,’’ he said.
There is one more warm-up type game before Maui, and that comes against Nebraska-Omaha at home on Tuesday.
Toppin hasn’t packed his flower shirts, shorts and flip-flops for Hawaii just yet.
“We can’t wait for Maui, but the next game, (Nebraska) Omaha,’’ he said. “We have to prepare for that one, come out with a win and make a statement.’’
Chatman was asked about the expectations of the fan base. The base smells Atlantic 10 championship and a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Hold on one minute, he said.
“We’re still working,’’ Chatman said. “Coach always says it’s about the people in the locker room. We’re the ones who have to go out there and play. But we also have high expectations. We’re still new. We’re still trying to get to know one another and get chemistry.’’
As for the chatter on social media, he said, “I try not to read it.’’