The Rockets continued their run toward the Mid-American Conference West Division crown on Feb. 25 with an 83-74 victory over Western Michigan at Savage Arena. The win was UT’s fourth straight and fifth in its last six games.
With the win, Toledo (15-14, 6-8 MAC) moved into a tie for second place in the MAC West with the Broncos (12-17, 6-8), who dropped to 2-12 this year on the road. The Rockets still trail by two games to Eastern Michigan (13-16, 8-6) and will need the Eagles to lose on Feb. 29 in Kalamazoo to Western Michigan to keep their division title hopes alive before the two teams square off in the season finale on March 3.
“I thought that was a very gutty performance by our guys tonight,” UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “Our players stepped up and really answered the bell. For 40 minutes we played hard, smart and very good basketball, executing at both ends.”
In an effort to repeat as MAC West Division Player of the Week, freshman point guard Juice Brown (5 of 13) scored 14 points and dished out seven assists against WMU. Brown scored a career-high 29 points earlier in the week in a win over Central Michigan.
“I would say I’m playing with more confidence but I’m also playing smarter,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to get better every day.”
Junior guard Dominique Buckley (5 of 9) recorded a game-high 16 points with five assists. Sophomore guard Rian Pearson (5 of 11) scored 15 points with eight rebounds while junior forward Matt Smith (6 of 10) also had 15 points with six boards.
The Rockets held a 15-point lead in the second half but WMU narrowed the lead to 72-71 with less than three minutes remaining. Toledo, however, responded with an 11-3 run to close out the game.
“We used to give away wins [earlier this season] so now when it comes closer and closer we just try to just stay under control and get stops and rebounds,” Pearson said. “We just try to put [previous losses] behind us and just keep going.”
Toledo will look to extend its winning streak to five games when it travels to last-place Northern Illinois (3-23, 2-11) at 8 p.m. Feb. 29. The Rockets won the previous matchup 71-41 on Jan. 18 in Savage Arena.