Rockets rally past Chippewas 76-72 in OTWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
With a second-straight Mid-American Conference victory in his team’s collective grasp, there was no doubt who Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk wanted to have the ball with the game on the line: sophomore point guard Julius “Juice” Brown.
And in a game that saw 18 lead changes and the score tied seven times, it turns out that Brown was the right choice. After not attempting any free throws in the first half, Brown went six-for-six from the charity stripe the rest of the way and hit a big, long-range jumper in overtime that put the Rockets up for good as they defeated Central Michigan by a final of 76-72.
“He makes shots when it matters, and point guards want the ball in their hands,” Kowalczyk said of Brown, who finished with a team-high 21 points.
Heading into its MAC West Division matchup with CMU (8-7, 1-1 MAC), five of UT’s seven losses were by six points or less. Though the Rockets trailed by as many as 10 in the first half, Toledo was able to disrupt the Chippewas’ offensive rhythm down the stretch, reeling off 10 fast break points and 16 points off Central Michigan’s 14 turnovers.
“Their transition offense is the best I’ve seen in college basketball in the last five years,” Kowalczyk said of CMU, who was led by Kyle Randall’s game-high 24 points. “They play that fast, and we took them out of that and that’s why we won the game. They get the ball inbounds and shoot quicker than any team I’ve ever seen.”
Though the Rockets (6-7, 2-0 MAC) got off to a slow start offensively, a 14-10 run to close out the first half sent UT into halftime down 29-26.
“I think we were trying to get back in transition first off, then get high hands to their shooters and get out on [three-pointers],” said junior guard Rian Pearson, who registered a career-best 12th consecutive game with double figures in scoring after pouring in 20 points. “The whole first half, they were just hitting threes and that’s why the game was so close.”
After scoring just six points in the first half, Pearson was on the attack to start the second half, scoring eight points in under six minutes to make it 39-38 Rockets with 14:37 remaining. Toledo extended its lead to as many as seven after a steal and dish from freshman guard Josh Lemons set up an open court slam by junior forward Matt Smith to make it 47-40 UT at the 11:30 mark.
The Chippewas, however, countered with a 12-3 run to take back the lead after a bucket from Olivier Mbaigoto made it 52-50 with 5:50 left.
The game continued to go back-and-forth until Pearson stole the ball from John Simons on a dump down pass and took it the length of the floor, getting fouled as he made his layup to put UT back up 59-57 with under two minutes left. However, he missed his free throw following the timeout to keep it a two-point lead for Toledo.
After freshman center Nathan Boothe split his free throws with 26 seconds left to make it 60-58 UT, Randall made a driving layup with 15 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 60. Brown then pushed the ball up the court, got some space from his defender and missed a pull-up three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
“I just tried to take what the defense gave me,” said Brown, who also tied for a game-high nine assists. “I felt he kind of backed up a little bit, so I felt that he was not playing the shot. So I just tried to raise up and hit it.”
Brown made up for that miss in OT, separating from his defender on the left side and hitting a long-range jumper to put the Rockets up 71-70, a lead they never relinquished to pick up their second-straight MAC win.
“Good players make big plays,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought Juice’s shot in overtime was huge for us; huge. And then getting to the foul line was important, too. I thought we really executed coming out of timeouts—except for the one time where we couldn’t get the ball inbounds—but other than that, out of timeout situations we got the right shots for the right guys.
“Didn’t make some of them, but I thought tonight we made some plays when we had to.”
Toledo will be in action again on Jan. 16 when it faces Western Michigan (8-7, 0-2 MAC) in Kalamazoo at 7 p.m.