Jameer Nelson, Jr, who attempted to swat the dunk in mid-air, caught the ball after going to the rim and immediately put his head down and turned away toward the stanchion as the 6-foot-9 Brooklyn native grilled him for a few seconds before taking his and-one free throw attempt.
“I mean, do we have our play of the game already?” an announcer remarked on the ESPN broadcast.
Dayton went on to crush the Colonials 76-51 to improve to 29-2 on the season, with a perfect 18-0 in Atlantic 10 Conference play. But that very first dunk was only the beginning of Toppin’s highlight reel afternoon.
The projected top-five NBA Draft pick executed a half-spin on defender Shawn Walker, freezing the nimble 6-foot-6 swingman before dunking off of the quick step with 6:16 to go in the first half.
A simple screen for teammate Jalen Crutcher off a pick-and-roll opened up Toppin for a monster two-handed alley-oop finish with 13:35 left in the second half, sparking a run of 14 unanswered points.
And finally the SportsCenter Top Play of the evening: Toppin unleashed a between the legs in-game dunk on a fastbreak with 7:49 left to go.
It was another star-making performance for the best player on the third-ranked team in the country, who enters this week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament as the keystone name of the bunch, fresh off the 27-point showing on 11-of-15 shooting.
“A lot of people say I have body built like Amar’e Stoudemire,” he told Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter in January of the season. “They say I play a little bit like Al Horford because he could shoot, he could stretch the floor. But I don’t really have a set comparison.”
Toppin is averaging 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, while shooting 63 percent from the field, 39 percent from three and 70 percent on free throws.
Because of Dayton’s overwhelming success this season, the Flyers locked up the number-one seed in this week’s A-10 Tournament. So despite the tournament tipping off at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Dayton won’t play until Friday.
Toppin isn’t doing tit alone, as three more players on the team also average double-figures, including Crutcher, who averages 15 points and five assists per game as the team’s starting point guard. Toppin is expected to be named A-10 Player of the Year Monday, and will be in the mix for National Player of the Year.
The Flyers have never been this good. In the NCAA Tournament, they haven’t been to a Final Four since 1967 – their only trip.
Their best recent outing was an Elite Eight appearance in 2014, by far the best season of last decade, which included four consecutive NCAA Tournament trips from 2014-2017, their best stretch as a program.
They also haven’t had a first-round draft pick since 1979, when eventual NBA All-Star Jim Paxson went 12th overall to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Dayton is out to prove that not only can a mid-major legitimately win the national championship, but led by Toppin, they’re out to demonstrate why records are made to be broken. In this case, there are lots of them.
Brooklyn appears to be in good hands this week.