Toledo’s toughness pays off in 77-73 win over OhioWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a season that has featured several second-half collapses, Toledo overcame a 15-0 first half hole and staved off a late second-half rally from Ohio to earn a 77-73 victory over the Bobcats Wednesday at Savage Arena.
“I’m very, very proud of our guys tonight,” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I thought we really competed. Obviously, at the start of the game, give [Ohio] credit. I thought they played really well. I thought we had some shots that were pretty good looks that didn’t go, had a couple turnovers which led to transition [points] for them, but our guys weathered the storm.”
Sophomore guard Rian Pearson was again the star for the Rockets, tying a team-high 18 points to go with a career-high 16 rebounds. But it was fellow sophomore Matt Smith who sealed the win for Toledo (11-13, 3-7 Mid-American Conference). The forward hit both of his free throws with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to extend the Rockets’ lead to four.
“It’s what every basketball player in college basketball wants,” said Smith, who also finished with 18 points for UT. “Growing up, you want the crowd all on your shoulders. It’s a two-point game. If you make two, you seal the game, and if not, you’ve got to get back on [defense]. So it was a blessing that I made them.”
Prior to those free throws from Smith, Bobcats forward Ivo Baltic went to the floor after his failed layup attempt on a lob pass from D.J. Cooper, resulting in a no call and a turnover to give possession back to Toledo.
“Bottom line on that deal is you’ve got to stay on your feet and catch the friggin’ ball,” Ohio head coach John Groce said. “Don’t play for the foul. Whether you got nudged or not, you’ve got to catch the ball there. You can’t put the game in the hands of the official on a 50-50 call, and I thought Baltic should’ve stayed on his feet.”
Prior to that play, sophomore guard Reese Holliday appeared to think the game was over and traveled with the basketball as he neared half court to give possession back to OU (19-5, 7-3 MAC) with the score 75-73 in favor of the Rockets.
“I have no idea what he was thinking; none,” Kowalczyk said of Holliday. “But thank God for him that it didn’t cost us the game because he would’ve really felt awful.”
UT had four players finish with double figures in scoring, led by Pearson and Smith’s 18 points. Junior guard Curtis Dennis and freshman point guard Julius “Juice” Brown were the other two, registering 15 and 14 points, respectively.
After going down 15-0, Toledo battled back and made it a 26-14 ballgame with 11:32 left in the first half following a pair of free throws from Smith. Pearson got his first points of the half on UT’s next possession with a putback tip-in, sparking a 15-2 run to give the Rockets a 29-28 lead by the 4:57 mark.
“When we started out the game, [Kowalczyk] told us ‘Just close out the game tonight; play all 40 minutes’ because we tend to give up the game towards the end this season,” Pearson said. “So he just told us to close it out.”
Toledo ended the half on a 24-8 run to lead 38-34 at the break. In the second half the Rockets picked up where they left off, leading the Bobcats 61-48 with 6:50 remaining. However, Ohio’s full court press started giving UT trouble and the Bobcats went on a 25-11 run to take a 73-72 lead at the 1:35 mark after Cooper’s floater in the lane.
But Dennis answered with a floater of his own and got fouled on the Rockets’ ensuing possession, hitting his free throw to give UT a 75-73 advantage with 1:08 remaining. Toledo finished the contest with a 43-32 lead in rebounds, 36-20 advantage in points in the paint and outscored Ohio 17-8 on second-chance points.
“When you lose six games at the buzzer — and Buffalo, that was a seven-point game; that was a one possession game, too — that wears on your confidence,” Kowalczyk said. “Guys start to question themselves. They start to question each other. They start to question the coaches. I mean, that’s just human nature.
“This shows you how good of character guys we have. They stayed together. They believe in each other and stayed together, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
The Rockets next face Bowling Green (12-11, 6-4 MAC) on Saturday at BGSU. The rivalry game is slated to begin at 4 p.m.