No. 3 Dayton visits URI, zeroing in on A-10 perfection

NCAA Basketball
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Want to know how serious No. 3 Dayton is about making a deep postseason run?

Consider the Flyers’ reaction after they clinched the Atlantic 10 Conference’s regular-season title Friday night with an 82-67 defeat of Davidson. Instead of cutting down the nets while a sellout crowd roared, they instead marched right to the locker room.

“We’re not done,” star forward Obi Toppin told the Dayton Daily News. “We’ve got two more games. We’ve got a road game Wednesday and then George Washington on Saturday. We’re not going to jinx anything. Our last home game is Saturday, so we’re going to wait until then to do it, I think.”

Win or lose, the Flyers (27-2, 16-0 Atlantic 10) won’t cut down any nets at Rhode Island on Wednesday night, but they certainly can hurdle their last significant obstacle to an unbeaten conference regular-season record. A win could also give them a little help toward capturing a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.

Dayton’s rise to the top three has been fueled by Toppin, who joins Iowa’s Luka Garza as the likely favorites to win national Player of the Year. The efficient Toppin is averaging 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while canning 63.2 percent of his field-goal attempts.

Ably supported by point guard Jalen Crutcher (14.8 ppg, 4.9 assists), glue swingman Trey Landers (10.7 ppg, 6.5 rebounds) and sixth man Ibi Watson (10.2 ppg), Toppin has helped the Flyers lead Division I in field-goal shooting at 52.6 percent.

Dayton ranks 13th in scoring at 80 points per game and is fourth in assists at 17.6 per game.

Dayton canned an amazing 72.3 percent of its field-goal tries against Davidson, including an otherworldly 27 of 28 on 2-point attempts. The Flyers drew 20 assists on 34 field goals, Toppin leading the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

“We’re just happy to clinch it outright, which is one of our goals,” Flyers coach Anthony Grant said to the Daily News. “We met that goal, but our focus continues to be on the opportunities that lie in front of us.”

Meanwhile, the Rams (20-8, 12-4) could use some help with their NCAA at-large resume. They have dropped three of their past five games, including a 72-62 decision at home Sunday against Saint Louis. The Billikens jumped out to an 11-0 lead and never trailed.

Rhode Island needed more than six minutes to score, a drought that would likely kill any chance of beating Dayton should it happen on Wednesday. The Rams pieced together a 10-game winning streak before their recent struggles.

“We’ve got to regroup, and we’ve obviously got to get focused on our next task,” Rhode Island coach David Cox told the Providence Journal. “It’s obviously a huge, huge task. We embrace that. We’ll be back. We’ll be ready to compete on Wednesday.”

Fatts Russell (19.5 points, 4.6 assists, three steals per game) is the ringleader for the Rams, but he endured a 5-of-16 shooting day against Saint Louis. The 5-foot-10 Russell produced 19 points in Rhode Island’s 81-67 defeat in Dayton on Feb. 11.

–Field Level Media

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