PITTSBURGH (AP) — Dayton has played plenty of close games despite its lofty ranking. Against Duquesne, the Flyers turned a possible rout into another nail-biter.
No. 7 Dayton (19-2, 8-0 Atlantic 10) led by 19 points in the second half on Wednesday night, but the Dukes (15-5, 5-3) pushed back with a 15-2 run and closed the gap to two points in the final minute.
Protecting the lead came down to Obi Toppin, the Flyers’ leading scorer and reigning Atlantic 10 player of the year.
Toppin converted two free throws with 16 seconds left, giving him 22 points along with 10 rebounds. After a Duquesne turnover, the Flyers held on for a 73-69 victory.
Coach Anthony Grant was confident Toppin would come through for his suddenly shaky team.
“He’s a really good player,” Grant said. “He’s proven himself with what he’s been able to accomplish at this point."
It wasn’t the first time Toppin carried the team. He went to the rim frequently, using a number of athletic dunks to finish over and around the Duquesne defense. Toppin shot 9 of 13 from the floor and now has six double-doubles this season.
“We’ve just got to be composed as a team,” Toppin said. “Today, we didn’t do that to the best of our abilities and it showed at the end of the game. But we got a ‘W’ and we can learn from that.”
Dayton's Jalen Crutcher had 18 points and was 4 for 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Dayton offense was clicking all night as the Flyers shot 59.2% from the floor and 44.4% from 3-point range.
But it was troubling turnovers and inconsistent effort on defense that allowed the Dukes to make it close in the second half.
“It was defense for sure that let them back in the game,” Crutcher said. “We just weren’t locked in. We were just trying to make our offense win, but defense wins games.”
Michael Hughes II led Duquesne with 19 points. Marcus Weathers had 17 points and eight rebounds.
Dayton: Both of the Flyers' losses this season came in overtime, against Kansas and Colorado. They also needed overtime to defeat Saint Louis on Jan. 13. But the experienced Flyers feel they can handle themselves in those situations.
“We’ve got some veterans that have had to deal with adversity,” Grant said. “Last year, we lost a lot of one-, two-, three-possession games all the way through from the beginning of the season.”
Duquesne: The Dukes turned in a solid showing against the No. 7 team in the country, but Duquesne has now lost three straight after falling at Rhode Island and Massachusetts last week.
“In order for us to take the next step, we can’t lose at home to Dayton,” coach Keith Dambrot said. “I don’t care if they’re No. 7 in the country or not.”
Crutcher walked out of the visitors' locker room at PPG Paints Arena carrying a game ball under his right arm. He’s not likely to put it down any time soon.
That was the ball Crutcher used to record his 1,000th point on the game’s first basket. He made sure that the ball was coming back to Dayton with him.
“I just got the rebound and I just kept it,” Crutcher said. “It means a lot. I’m thankful for it.”
Dayton: Returns home for a three-game homestead that opens with Fordham on Saturday. The Flyers have won 15 straight against the Rams.
Duquesne: Will host La Salle on Sunday. The Dukes are 8-1 at home this season.
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