By HAL McCOY
For as long as anybody can remember, the Mullins Center on the University of Massachusetts campus has been a Fieldhouse of Frustration for University of Dayton basketball teams.
Obi Toppin was 6-years-old and Josh Cunningham was 8-years old when the Flyers last won a game in the decrepit old joint.
UD’s last win in Mullins was in 2004 and Dr. Julius Irving, a UMass product, had nothing to do with it. He played for the Minutemen long, long ago.
So it was with timid trepidation that the Flyers walked into Mullins Tuesday night, even though UMass stood 13th in the 14-team Atlantic 10 standings.
And it didn’t look good in the first few minutes when UMass jumped to an 8-2 lead, despite missing five players sitting in track suits on the sidelines with injuries.
Then things changed like a nor’easter. The Flyers went on a 26-4 run and never looked back en route to a classic 72-48 beatdown.
By halftime it was 40-18 as the Flyers shot an incomprehensible 81 per cent — 14 for 17 and neither Toppin nor Cunningham had missed a shot because the claimed squatter’s rights under the basket.
Midway through the first half, Toppin slammed home a dunk, his 67th of the season to break Chris Wright’s single-season record.
And he didn’t stop. The next three times down the floor he dunked and dunked and dunked – four in a row to give the Flyers a 36-14 lead.
He added two more in the second half for six on this night, expanding his dunk record to 72. His six dunks at UMass, located near Boston, was apropos because there is a Dunkin’ Donuts shop of nearly every corner.
Among the five missing UMass players was leading scorer Luwane Pipkins (16.6 ppg). Pipkins scored 19 earlier this year at UD Arena during Dayton’s 72-67 victory. In two games last season he scored 25 and 28 points, including a last-minute three-pointer in UMass’s double overtime win in Mullins.
The Minutemen place their scoring hopes on 6-foot-4 Carl Pierre, averaging 21 points over his last five games. Not on this night. Ryan Mikesell treated him like a frozen spigot, holding him to 0 for 7 in the first half. He finished with just seven points on 2 for 13 shooting, 1 for 7 from the three-point circle.
At one point, both Toppin and Cunningham were 7 for 7. Toppin finished 8 for 10 and hit a three en route to 19 points and Cunningham was 7 for 8 and scored 18.
Jordan Davis and Jalen Crutcher were supportive with 13 and 10. The only UMass player in double figures was Jonathan Laurent with 21.
The Flyers biggest lead was 29 points, 61-32, with 14 minutes left and hit 21 of their first 26 shots.
With Toppin and Cunningham sniffing around the basket, the Flyers outscored UMass 40-26 in the paint and UD scored 25 points off 21 Minutemen turnovers.
UMass is so desperate for warm bodies that their football quarterback, Randall West, played nine minutes and scored two points.
With the victory, UD moved to 19-9 overall and 11-4 in the A-10 with the next two games at home, Friday night against Rhode Island and then their final home game against LaSalle. UMass fell to 10-18 overall and 3-12 in the conference.