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Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 @ 12:33 AM
DAYTON — Ryan Mikesell got it started, cutting through two defenders for a wide-open layup. Then it was Obi Toppin, backing down Rhode Island’s Jermaine Harris and hitting a turnaround jump shot.
Two 3-pointers by Jalen Crutcher followed. He made the second one right in front of the Rhode Island bench and nearly stepped on his opponents’ toes as he bounced back down the court.
Rhode Island coach David Cox had seen enough at that point and called a 30-second timeout three minutes into the game. It did not slow the roll of the Dayton Flyers, who ran off seven more points in the next two minutes, building a 17-0 lead by making their first seven shots.
After three straight sub-par performances — at least by the standards of a team ranked sixth in the country — Dayton looked again like one of the nation’s top teams. The Flyers beat Rhode Island 81-67 to tighten their grip on first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“We knew they were No. 2 in the conference,” Dayton forward Obi Toppin said, “and we had to put a stamp on what we have going on.”
» TOP GUARDS: Crutcher outshines Fatts Russell
What Dayton has going on is a 13-game winning streak, the longest for the program since it won 13 straight in the 2007-08 season and tied for the ninth longest in school history. At 22-2 and 11-0 in the A-10, the Flyers lead the Rams (18-6, 10-2) by 1½ games. The teams meet again March 4 in Kingston, R.I., in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Rhode Island suffered three double-digit losses earlier this season — 73-55 to Maryland, 96-83 to LSU and 85-75 to Brown — but was not dominated from start to finish in those games as it was in this game. Dayton pushed the lead to as many as 25 points and led by 19 with a minute to go.
The game was decided by that 17-0 run in the opening minutes, but here five more reasons Dayton beat Rhode Island:
1. The Flyers made their free throws: The officials marred the game by calling 52 fouls, including seven technical fouls (four against Rhode Island and three against Dayton). Dayton made 22 of 26 free throws (84.6 percent), and Rhode Island made 26 of 38 (68.4).
2. Dayton played one of its best defensive games: Rhode Island missed its first nine shots and shot 28.8 percent. It was the worst shooting night of the season for the Rams, who were shooting 43.7 percent from the field entering the game.
» ARCHDEACON: More on Toppin vs. Toppin
“I thought that was the key, what we did on the defensive end,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. “Our guys were just locked in. That’s something we’ve talked about all year. It’s going to dictate how far we can go, if we can win a conference championship, if we can advance in the postseason. We show what we’re capable of. We have flashes of it. But we’ve got to get to the point where we understand that and get consistent with it.”
3. Toppin played like a star: Dayton’s national player of the year candidate finished with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. He dunked three times, bringing his season total to 80 (three of the record he set last season) and his career total to 163 (14 short of Chris Wright’s school record).
» MORE ON OBI: Where he stands in player of the year race
4. Crutcher excelled: The junior guard scored 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He made 9 of 9 free throws and has made 23 in a row in the last five games.
5. Dayton did what it does best: The Flyers shot 62.9 percent (22 of 35) from 2-point range. They lead the nation in that category (62.7).