By HAL McCOY
What Virginia Commonwealth University did to Obi Toppin Tuesday night in Richmond, Va., is a felony in 38 states.
It was one degree below a public mugging and the Rams did everything but yank Toppin’s shorts to his ankles.
While it knocked Toppin’s game off-balance, it did VCU no good. The University of Dayton prevailed, 66-61.
What it did was show how good the Flyers are. VCU successfully took the Flyers best player out of the game, but Toppin’s teammates stepped up and showed why they are the No. 5 team in the nation.
And the beat goes on. The Flyers won for the 15th straight time, extended their league-leading Atlantic 10 record to 13-0 and their overall record to 24-2.
It was evident the Rams were not, at all costs, going to permit Toppin to beat them. Toppin hit the first shot of the game, a three-pointer, then nothing the rest of the half — zero points and zero rebounds.
And it was evident Toppin was frustrated with a bag full of turnovers, bad passes and misses under the basket. And he didn’t have a dunk, not one.
But his supporting cast stepped up with giant steps.
And how many games does a team win when it scores only two field goals in the last nine minutes. That’s exactly what the Flyers did.
Remember a few games ago when guard Dwayne Cohill was playing very little. And one game he never set foot on the floor.
But on this night, Cohill played 21 minutes. He hit one of the two baskets the Flyers made in the final nine minutes, a three. It was the only shot he took, but he contributed three of four from the foul line, grabbed four rebounds, recorded one assist and committed only one turnover.
In those final nine minutes, the Flyers stayed a half-step ahead of the Rams by converting 15 of 20 free throws.
The Flyers made only six field goals in the second half against a VCU defense that shut down UD’s offense with eyebrow-to-eyebrow defense, a defense that seemed as if every VCU player had four arms waving in UD’s faces.
VCU was within three, 62-59, converting a basket when they had five shots at point blank range before one dropped with 27 seconds left.
Cohill swished two free throws with 22 seconds left and Jalen Crutcher clinched it was two free throws with nine seconds left. Crutcher was 8-for-8 in the second half from the foul line.
Cohill’s three-pointer came with 9:00 left when VCU had crept to within 46-40. UD’s only other basket in the final nine minutes was a back-to-the-basket bucket by Toppin with 2:45 left that gave the Flyers a 60-55 lead.
Toppin finished with a hard-earned 12 points and five rebounds. Crutcher scored 18 and Trey Landers chipped in with his usual 11 points and seven rebounds.
UD jumped to a 6-0 lead, but VCU scored seven straight to take a 7-6 lead, putting the Siegel Center crowd into a frenzy.
It was VCU’s only lead of the night, although they yipped at the Flyers’ sneakers all night.
The Flyers scored six straight to take a 12-7 lead they never relinquished, but it was always harrowing.
UD’s biggest lead was nine points, 51-42 with 8:15 left. But that’s when they forgot how to make field goals and VCU sneaked its way back into the game.
It was the second victory this season for the Flyers over VCU, the first time Dayton has swept the regular-season series. And it is likely the two teams could meet again in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Talking about his team’s resiliency with team play-by-play broadcaster Larry Hansgen after the game, UD coach Anthony Grant said, “It was big-time.
“You know coming in these guys (VCU) returned a team that dominated the league last year — 16-2 and won the league championship. They’ve had some adversity, but we knew what we were walking into tonight.”
One of VCU’s best players, Marcus Evans, warmed up with a knee brace, hoping to play. But he sat the entire game in his warm-up.
“We knew there would be a heavily partisan crowd and we knew they would give us everything they had,” Grant added. “Our guys were ready and handled the adversity. And that adversity came at us in a lot of different ways.”
VCU calls its defense ‘Havoc,’ and that’s what it looked like up and down the floor as the Rams contested every dribble, every pass, every shot.
“They do a heck of a job disrupting what you are trying to do offensively,” Grant added. “They had a real good game plan. We uncharacteristically missed some things, left some things out there offensively that made it a little harder for us.
“Our guys stayed with it and were able to move on to the next play time after time after time,” he said. “We got some big-time efforts off the bench and Dwayne Cohill was huge for us. We showed a lot of character in doing what we call being ‘Dayton Strong.’”
As Grant put it, “I don’t think anybody had a stellar offensive night in terms of shooting the basketball. It wasn’t a pretty night offensively, so we had to find ways to win the game.”
The Flyers didn’t shoot their usual 50 per cent, but made 19 of 42 (45 per cent). Toppin was 5 for 11, Crutcher was 4 for 9 and Trey Landers was 4 for 7.
The difference was at the foul line, where UD converted 22 of 31 to only 13 of 23 by VCU.
The Rams were led by freshman Nah’shon Hyland with 18 and senior Marcus Santo-Silva had 12 points and 17 rebounds.
And on this night it was the Survival of the Fittest and the Flyers, once again, were the Fittest.