Greg Billing
Greg Billing

Greg Billing began covering high school, college and professional sports in the Miami Valley in 1988 when he was a junior at Miami East High School. The Wright State University graduate has worked at the Troy Daily News (1996-1997), Springfield News-Sun (1997-2001) and the Dayton Daily News (2001-2016). He was inducted into the Dayton Auto Racing Fan Club's (DARF) Hall of Fame in 2015 for his auto racing coverage and has also earned numerous Associated Press awards for stories, headline writing and special sports sections. Greg lives in West Milton with his wife and two daughters. When not covering events, he and his wife are cheering for the girls as they play a variety of sports for the Milton-Union Bulldogs.

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Obi Toppin, UD’s national player of the year candidate, hit a few monster dunks and a milestone in the Flyers’ comeback victory over the Duquesne Dukes on Saturday. The victory was the 16th straight for the team ranked No. 5 in the nation.

UD’s Obi Toppin, known for his highlight-reel dunks, showed off his range with three 3-pointers.

Dayton, OH – Trey Landers knows how it might sound to fans of college basketball powers like Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga and others. But in Landers’ opinion the best player in the nation is a slam dunk.

“This might be over the top, but he’s the best player in the country in my eyes,” the Dayton Flyers’ senior guard said of redshirt sophomore teammate Obi Toppin. “I’m going to war with that. I don’t care who you talk about or put him against, that man is the best player in the country.”

The only thing over the top about Toppin is his above-the-rim, high-flying, highlight-reel game … in a good way. The adjectives used to describe his slams are plentiful as his depot of dunks.

Asked if Toppin had a favorite after No. 5 Dayton’s 80-70 victory over Duquesne on Saturday afternoon, Toppin shrugged. Moments later someone asked about his behind-the-head alley-oop dunk.

“I had a backward dunk?” Toppin asked.

Heck, with six dunks in the game … giving him 89 for the season to break his team-record 83 set last season … it’s hard to keep track of them all.

“It just happens. I don’t plan on doing anything,” Toppin said. “It snaps into my head and I just do it.”

Toppin threw down a game-high 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting to lead the Flyers’ second-half surge. Toppin surpassed 1,000-career points in Saturday’s win. And the milestone points came on … what else? … a dunk. Toppin took Jalen Crutcher’s pass down the lane for a backboard-shaking, two-hand slam to give UD a 59-47 lead with 11:14 left in the second half. The 13,407 in attendance at UD Arena rose in appreciation.

The Flyers’ win was aided by Trey Landers double-double. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

“That’s my roommate. He found me,” Toppin said. “Jalen is a really good point guard and is always going to find the open person. It wasn’t a coincidence he found me.”

As much fun as the Flyers had in the second half, they struggled just as much in the first. An aggressive Dukes’ team often outhustled the Flyers. Off target passes and a lack of urgency at times hamstrung UD’s offense. It led to a 38-36 halftime deficit for UD.

UD coach Anthony Grant said this is the time of year when the grind becomes more challenging mentally and physically. With that in mind he asked his Flyers to simply pick up their intensity, please. Toppin and Landers called it a chewing out of sorts.

“That’s not my personality. I guess for me maybe the felt like it was a chewing out,” Grant said. “I just try to be honest with them in terms of what I see. That’s pretty much it. Let’s be accountable for what happened in the first half. Now we have to make a choice whether we decide to feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in pity … or do we chose to play in character and do the things we’re supposed to do.”

Mikesell set the second-half tone by drawing three fouls on the Dukes in the opening two minutes. UD then reeled off a 30-11 run for its largest lead of the game, 66-49, in the first 11:55 of the second half. The Dukes never got closer than eighth points the rest of the way, pulling within 74-66 with 1:34 to play.

Dayton improved to 25-2 overall and 14-0 in the Atlantic-10 Conference. Duquesne fell to 18-8 and 8-6.

Ryan Mikesell helped the Flyers pick up the intensity in the second half by getting the Dukes to commit three quick fouls in the first two minutes.

UD, the nation’s leader in field-goal percentage, finished 28-of-58 (48.3 percent) from the field. They were also 6-of-18 (33.3 percent) on three-point attempts. Duquesne was 27-of-53 (50.9 percent) from the field overall and 6-of-20 (30 percent) from three-point range.

Dayton outrebounded Duquesne 33-26 and had an 18-8 assist-to-turnover ratio to benefit it second-half comeback.

In addition to Toppin’s 28 points, Crutcher had 17 (all in the second half) and Landers 12. Landers led UD with 11 rebounds and Toppin added seven.

“We weren’t playing as a team. We all understood what (Grant) was saying,” Toppin said. “When we got back on the court we did what we do best and that’s sharing the ball and helping each other get open shots.”

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And dunks. Plenty of dunks. Landers’ favorite came with 2:47 remaining. In a span of about five seconds a double-teamed Rodney Chatman dished to Mikesell, who immediately bounced a pass to Landers streaking down the land. Landers, with a defender on him, leaped for the layup … until Toppin flashed in the corner of his eye. Landers’ wrapped a pass around the defender and Toppin wind-milled it home.

Duquesne stuck close to UD and Rodney Chatman in the first half, but the Flyers rallied for their 16th straight win in the second half.

“I’m not awe because I know what he can do,” Landers said. “But when I caught the ball in the middle (of the lane) … and I saw him from the corner of my eye, I wrapped the ball around to him. He took no dribble and jumped and wind milled. The play of the day. I’ve never seen nothing like that before. This guy is a different athlete I’ve never seen in my lifetime.”

Thirty players are currently on the Naismith Trophy watchlist as the men’s college basketball player of the year. The list gets trimmed to 10 on March 5 and the final four on March 17. The winner is named on April 5.

The last player not from a Power 5 Conference team to win the award was Creighton’s Doug McDermott in 2014. Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette won it in 2011.

“If he doesn’t win player of the year I’m going to be very upset,” Landers said.

There isn’t much Toppin can’t do. In addition to his inside power — he also wowed with a one-handed slam after taking off a couple steps inside the free-throw line — he also excelled from the perimeter. He knocked down a three-pointer for UD’s first points an added another two more 3-of-5 perimeter shooting. But there is one thing he won’t do … Toppin said the only dunk he won’t attempt anymore is a between-the-legs slam.

There were some Dukes on the court Saturday … but there was one king. UD’s Obi Toppin finishes off one of his six dunks at the expense of Duquesne.

The reason?

“Coach Grant,” Toppin said sheepishly.

“I’ve never had a conversation with him about style points, but he’s got the ability to do some special things,” Grant said. “We just want to make sure it’s done in the manner that helps our team. Just being a smart player. … I’ve been caught (watching him during games) a couple times. He’s done some spectacular things. Not very many people I’ve ever seen can do some of the things I’ve seen him do.

“The guys will tell you he’s a great teammate. He’s a good guy. A fun guy to be around. It’s a really good group. That’s kind of the identity of (the team). They have a good amount of respect for each other and they have a common goal we’re all trying to achieve.”

UD went the extra mile(stone) to celebrate Obi Toppin’s 1,00th career point in UD’s 80-70 victory over Duquesne. Toppin was presented with the game ball after scoring 28 points.

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