By HAL McCOY
As Ringo Starr of the Beatles sung, “It Don’t Come Easy.”
That’s a song the University of Dayton basketball team should have been listening to on their return home from Pittsburgh Wednesday night.
They played Duquesne University as nine-point favorites and nearly let this one get away in what seemed like a blowout early in the second half.
In the end, despite giving up 15 offensive rebounds and turning the ball over 17 times, the Flyers prevailed, 73-69.
The important stuff: The Flyers, ranked No. 7 in the country, won their 10th straight game, improved to 8-and-0 in Atlantic 10 Conference, are 5-and-0 in true road games and pushed their overall record to 19-and-2.
Duquesne, after a 5-and-0 start in the Atlantic 10, lost for the third straight time, but they put the fear of oh-my into the faces of the Flyers.
It appeared to be all over, another UD blowout, another coast home, when the Flyers built a 19-point lead, 57-38, with 11 minutes left in the game.
Quicker than anybody could say, “What’s happening,” Duquesne exploded on a 19-4 run to cut UD’s lead to 61-57. And it was 64-60 with six minutes left.
That, apparently, jolted the Flyers to attention. They scored seven straight points, four by Obi Toppin and three by Trey Landers on a conventional three-point play — a bucket and a free throw.
Just that quick, the Flyers were back in front by 11, 71-60 with four minutes left. Once again it looked as if UD had this one wrapped with a blue ribbon.
Duquesne, though, was having none of it. UD did not score another basket in the final four minutes.
And how many teams play the final four minutes without a basket and still win? Only good teams, very good teams.
Duquesne, fittingly dominated the paint in PPG Paint Arena, The Dukes scored four straight from point blank at the rim and a free throw — a 9-0 run to scramble to within 71-69 with 25 seconds to go.
Toppin buried two free throws with 15 seconds left, UD’s only points in the final four minutes.
From there it was a stumble party with Duquesne committing two turnovers and Dayton one. Time expired when Duquesne missed a three-point try.
Even UD coach Anthony Grant was perplexed over this one, saying he couldn’t dissect it until he watched tape.
“The last 10 minutes of the game, the whole game changed,” he said during his post-game interview with Flyers broadcaster Larry Hansgen. “We’ll go back to the film to see why that happened.
“When you have a 19-point lead with 13 minutes to play and four minutes go off the block and the lead is down to single digits, something went wrong.”
A lot of what went wrong was the play of 6-8 junior center Michael Hughes. Normally he starts and averages 8.7 points a game. Coach Keith Dambrot didn’t start him.
Perhaps infused with fury for an early benching, Hughes came off the bench to dominate the paint en route to 19points.
“We’ll have to go back to the film and evaluate, so I’ll withhold judgement,” said Grant. “We have to fix it. You see them getting 15 offensive rebounds and we making 17 turnovers. . .and they got 10 more shots than we did at the rim. Those were the culprits.
“I’m just glad we were able to make enough plays to win,” he added. “As a group, we have to be a lot better.”
Obi Toppin made his usual “enough plays,” as did his roommate, Jalen Crutcher. Toppin scored 22 and four of his nine baskets were dunks. And he recorded another double-double with 10 rebounds.
Toppin, as always, spread the accolades, said after the game, “We share the ball and feed off each other. We’re the best team in the country in assists. We share the ball, try to get the ball to everybody.”
Crutcher scored 19, making six of nine shots (four of six from three), had five rebounds and six assists.
Trey Landers, beset with foul troubles, played only 28 minutes, but contributed 12 points on five of seven shooting.
Not only did Duquesne’s Hughes score 19, he had six offensive rebounds and made two of three three-pointers after making one three-pointer the rest of the year.
Marcus Weathers had 17 and Sincere Carry scored 11, but made only 2 of 10 from three.
Despite the rest of their ugliness, the Flyers did their normal percentage of marksmanship, shooting 60 per cent (29 for 48. . .8 of 18 from three).