PITTSBURGH — On Wednesday night, Duquesne will try to answer a question that no one in college basketball has been able to this season:
How do you stop Obi Toppin?
Toppin, Dayton’s 6-foot-9 sophomore sensation, is averaging 19.7 points per game and eight rebounds this season altering earning all-conference and A-10 Rookie of the Year acclaim a season ago.
Since Christmas, Toppin has scored at least 15 points in every game. He’s coming off a 24-point performance on the road at Richmond last week, and he’s shooting an absurd 62.2% from the floor this season.
“Obi is a great player, but we just want to treat this game like any other game,” Duquesne forward Marcus Weathers said. “We’re just going to look forward to the challenge of guarding him and just go out there and play hard against him.”
A combination of Weathers, Baylee Steele and Mike Hughes will likely draw the unenviable defensive assignment of stopping the A10’s best. But don’t make any mistake, Toppin isn’t the only Dayton player that can make an opposing team pay.
“They have a first-round draft pick and then they have two seniors in [Trey] Landers and [Ryan] Mikesell and one of the steadiest point guards in the league in Jalen Crutcher,” Dukes head coach Keith Dambrot said. “You’re talking about an old team that’s very balanced offensively. One of the best offensive teams in the country.”
Dambrot feels that on the whole, if the Dukes are going to hang with the No. 7 Flyers, it’s going to need to be a defensive effort.
“It’s quite obvious to me we’re not winning if the game is in the 80’s, because we haven’t been capable of scoring,” he said. “They’re capable of getting 80. So if it’s a fast game, they’re going to kick our ass.”
The Dukes are coming into this one on a down note after dropping a pair of winnable games on the road last week. Duquesne had Rhode Island where they wanted them after a strong first half, but fell apart in the second and never played up to its level of talent against UMass on Saturday.
“We went to Rhode Island, played a pretty good first half, and then got smacked in the mouth,” Dambrot said. “Then we go to UMass. We were gone all week. We just didn’t play great.
“It’s a long year. Everybody goes through it. If you look at the best teams in the country, even they have issues where they’re not playing well. We have to score better, there’s no doubt about that, because sometimes, you get demoralized when the ball doesn’t go in the basket.”
The Dukes have had a highly successful season, which is why they have a 15-4 record and are 5-2 in A10 play. But this is the second time they’ve gone through an extended stretch of poor play. They lost two in a row from Dec. 22-29, with neutral-site losses to UAB and Marshall.
But Duquesne bounced back from that stretch, starting A-10 play on a five-game winning streak starting on Jan. 2.
“I think it just speaks to the testament of our team,” Weathers said. “We go through a lot of adversity and a lot of ups and downs, but it’s a long season. We’ve just got to keep working hard and maintaining what we’ve always been doing. At the end of the day, you can live with the results when you’re leaving it all out on the floor.”
BATTLING THROUGH IT
Guard Tavian Dunn-Martin, who was limited to 18 minutes each in Duquesne’s two losses last week will play, but is still not 100%. He’s dealing with a contusion.
A NOVEL APPROACH
Dambrot’s son, Robby Dambrot was a Division I soccer player at Akron and Pitt and currently plays professionally for Loudon United FC in the USL Championship, the second-tier soccer league in North America.
So obviously, Keith knows a thing or two about soccer. This year, he’s borrowed an approach to stat-keeping from that sport. He’s tracking wins and losses in one-on-one battles that have more to do with the process than the outcome.
“If I’m guarding you and I get you stopped, whether you shoot it or not, I win,” Dambrot said. “if you beat me to the basket, whether you make it or not, that’s a loss.”
Dambrot started using it this year after seeing in used extensively in soccer.
“They chart aerial duels and one-on-one duels in MLS and USL,” Dambrot said. “It sounded good to me. That’s a good way to measure guys.
“Back in the old days, when my dad played, he’d used to argue with me, ‘Why do you need help-side defense? If you’re doing your job, you shouldn’t need help-side defense.’
“‘Back in my day’ — that’s what he used to tell me — ‘if we didn’t guard and my guy was beating me, I was coming out of the game.’
“There’s some truth to that.”