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Dayton scores double with college men’s basketball Player, Coach of the Year

Dayton head coach Anthony Grant, left, speaks with Obi Toppin during a game against Drake played in Dayton, Ohio, on Dec. 14. Toppin and Grant have claimed top honors from The Associated Press after leading the Flyers to a No. 3 final ranking. (AP file photo)

Obi Toppin and Anthony Grant spent the season transforming Dayton from an unranked team that wasn’t even picked to win its conference into one of the nation’s best, complete with the most wins in program history.

The pair behind the Flyers’ remarkable rise claimed The Associated Press’ top individual honors: Toppin is the men’s college basketball player of the year and Grant is the coach of the year.

“Our team is very appreciative of what we accomplished,” Toppin told the AP, “just because we made history at our school.”

Indeed. Dayton (29-2) went from being picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 to No. 3 in the final Top 25 poll, matching the program’s best poll finish, first set in 1956. The Flyers went unbeaten in league play and in road games, leaving them positioned to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament that was canceled amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Now Dayton has its first winners of the AP’s top awards, joining St. Joseph’s in 2004 (with Jameer Nelson and coach Phil Martelli) as the only programs in the past 40 seasons to claim both in the same year.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Toppin followed his unanimous selection to the AP All-America first team by appearing on 34 of 65 ballots from Top 25 voters, who submitted ballots after the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa junior Luka Garza was second in the balloting, earning 24 votes after averaging 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Hawkeyes. Fellow All-Americans Markus Howard of Marquette, Payton Pritchard of Oregon and Udoka Azubuike of Kansas split the remaining votes.

In high school, Toppin was a 6-foot-2 junior who had never dunked in a game and then was a senior lacking any Division I scholarship offers, sending him to prep school before ending up at Dayton. But he has blossomed as a redshirt sophomore into an efficient scorer.

He averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 63% from the field and 39% from 3-point range, leading a surge by the Flyers that rallied a community shaken by devastating tornadoes and a deadly mass shooting in the past year.

Dayton grabbed national attention by taking Kansas to overtime in Maui Invitational final loss. Its only other loss came in December on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in OT against Colorado. The Flyers ended the season with 20 straight wins.

Grant earned 30 of 65 votes in the AP coaching award voting in his third season at his alma mater. Baylor’s Scott Drew, who guided the Bears to a 23-game win streak and five weeks at No. 1, was second with 13 votes.

San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher was third with 12 votes after leading the Aztecs to a 26-0 start, followed by Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton — who earned six votes after leading the Seminoles to their first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.

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