The offense was on-again, off-again, but the Flyers defense shut down North Texas State’s featured scorer to secure their ninth win of the season.
For him, the ‘D’ stands for defense and his season-long mantra is that the Flyers will go as far this season as defense takes them.
And it was oh so true Tuesday night in UD Arena when UD lifted its record to 9-and-1 with a defensive-oriented 71-58 victory over North Texas University.
The Flyers were off-and-on on offense, but the defense was as stifling as trying to breathe in a room full of smoke.
North Texas shot just under 40 per cent and the Dayton ‘D’ was emphasized by guard Jalen Crutcher.
His assignment was to shadow box with the Mean Green’s Mo Gibson. He strolled into the Arena averaging 20.2 points over his previous six games.
But Crutcher stayed so close to Gibson all night that they could have blown each other’s noses. Gibson was scoreless in the first half — 0 for 4 with three turnovers.
Gibson finished with six points on 2 of 9 shooting and committed six turnovers. And the Mean Green was more like the Lean Green as the Flyers forced them into 20 turnovers.
And Crutcher did more than wrap a wet blanket around Gibson. He and Ryan Mikesell led the Flyers with 16 points each.
North Texas came to town as a team with a plan — surround and smother Obi Toppin with a double team every time he touched the basketball within an arm’s reach of the basket.
And they did hold him to 11 points. But they discovered there is more than scoring and dunking to Toppin’s dazzling game.
When they double teamed him down low, he would whip a cross court pass to an open shooter and or hit a teammate breaking for the basket.
Toppin had six assists and seven rebounds and was a stout and sturdy defender around the basket. Trey Landers also assisted on six baskets, including a lob-dunk to Toppin. The Flyers put 20 more assists into the box score.
While North Texas shot the basketball as if playing with scarves tied around their eyes, the Flyers couldn’t put them away. Several times, especially in the second half, UD constructed 15-point leads, only to see the Mean Green come back to within 10.
They were within 10 at 52-42 after a 7-0 run with 8 1/2 minutes to go.
At that point, to show what a frustrating night it was for UNT’s Gibson, he twisted his ankle and fell. And while he was on the floor one of the officials tripped over him and both hit the floor.
Jhery Matos hit a three and Ryan Mikesell scored underneath over the next minute, but Zachary Simmons hit a three and Gibson hit a three — his second and last basket.
That cut Dayton’s lead to nine, 57-48 with 5:50 to go, the closest North Texas had been since the opening moments of the game.
It was Toppin Time.
Toppin had the ball six feet from the basket, But two North Texas defenders were waving four arms and hands in his face. Without looking, Toppin lined a pass all the way across court. Crutcher, standing along near the UD bench, caught and fired. Three points.
Toppin then hit a short jump hook in the lane and Trey Landers deposited two free throws and the Flyers were back in front by 14, 64-50, with four minutes left.
From there, the only thing North Texas could do was sing a couple of NTU graduate Roy Orbison songs: You Got It and Crying.
The Flyers finished with a flourish, making six of their last seven shots.
“I thought our guys played hard,” said Grant of his 13th-ranked Flyers. “The first half, defensively, we were really, really good.”
There was a brief lapse to start the second half after the Flyers constructed a 34-19 halftime lead.
North Texas was 0 for 4 from the three-point line, but began the second half by nailing four straight three-pointers. The Mean Green finished 9 for 19 from three. . .all nine in the second half.
“They came out in the second half with four straight threes and we knew they were prolific three-point shooters,” said Grant. “They had some guys step up and do some things they hadn’t done this season, but that’s a part of the game.”
With Gibson inefficient and ineffective, Zachary Simmons, averaging seven points a game, led NTU with 20 points.
“We turned the ball over a little more in the second half than I would like after I thought we did a good job of not doing that in the first half,” said Grant. “Our guys competed because I have a lot of respect for this North Texas team. They’ve had a heck of a non-conference schedule.”
For sure, the Mean Green is happy they don’t play in the Atlantic 10. After losing to the Flyers, they are 4-and-7 and three losses are to A-10 teams.
Dayton beat them with the widest margin. They lost to Virginia Commonwealth, 59-56, and to Rhode Island, 60-47. They also lost to Oklahoma, 82-80, missing a three-pointer at the horn.
Of Toppin’s contributions, particularly his passing out of the post, Grant said, “He has done that for us all year. He gets a lot of attention. No matter where he is on the floor, there is an awareness of where he is by the other team.
“Obi is an unselfish guy,” Grant added. “He understands that utilizing the talent that we have on the floor makes the game easier for him and makes the game easier for everybody else. He has a joy of being able to share the ball and you can see that when a teammates is the beneficiary of him sharing the ball, he enjoys that.”
And the Flyers, Defensive Dandies on this night, kept the positive vibes rolling, knowing they have a difficult task Saturday night in Chicago when they play Colorado.