UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk stressed the need for grit following the Jan. 23 game with Akron that marked the Rockets’ third straight loss in conference play. On Jan. 26 at Savage Arena, Toledo responded by pulling out a 75-62 win over archrival Bowling Green.
“I’m really proud of our effort tonight,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought for 40 minutes we played tough together and did all of the little things.”
The Rockets (7-10, 3-3 Mid-American Conference) took an early 6-4 lead behind a pair of buckets in the post from freshman center Nathan Boothe. BGSU (7-12, 2-4) responded with a 7-0 run to take a 11-6 advantage at the 12:43 mark of the first half.
Shooting guard Dominique Buckley (4-of-6 FG and 8-of-8 FT) responded for the home team by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to push Toledo ahead. The senior tied Falcons point guard Jordon Crawford for a game-high 20 points in the pair’s final go-round in one of the MAC’s premier rivalries.
“I thought about it a lot, but to me it was another big game and I knew we had to come out and play hard,” Buckley said. “It just so happened the ball was in my favor today and I made shots. I’m grateful for it and I’m happy it was against BG.”
A pull up jumper from the wing by sophomore point guard Juice Brown pushed the lead to three but Falcons senior shooting guard Luke Kraus hit a three on the other end as the shot clock expired to tie the game at 14.
UT turned the ball over nine times in the first half, resulting in 13 points for Bowling Green, but lockdown defense and superb free throw shooting (10-of-10) helped the Rockets head to the locker room with a 28-22 lead. Toledo finished 26-of-27 (96 percent) from the line on the night.
“The first half I really liked how we guarded but I was not very happy with our turnovers,” Kowalczyk said. “It was uncharacteristic of our team. But we weathered that storm, going up six at halftime and in the second half we chipped away.”
Boothe scored four quick points again in the second half to get things started and the Rockets took their first double-digit lead on a jumper by Josh Lemons that made the score 40-28 with 14:30 to go.
Lemons, Brown and Rian Pearson switched off Crawford (team-high 16.4 ppg coming into the game) all night, holding him to 8-of-22 shooting from the field.
“He’s a very good player, very quick,” Brown said. “One of the keys was to keep him out of the paint and I think we did a decent job of that. Josh is one of the best defensive players I’ve ever played with, so that helped a lot.”
Crawford connected on a floater at the 7:09 mark to cut the lead to six but a trey from Reese Holliday and pair of jumper by Brown gave the UT a 59-48 advantage and the Rockets coasted to their first in win in three tries against BGSU under Kowalczyk.
“It’s a great rivalry with great tradition,” Kowalczyk said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for [Falcons head coach] Louis Orr and there have been a lot of great players and great coaches who have come before us. Out of respect to them, it always means more when you do it against Bowling Green.”
Brown (7-of-11 FG) and Pearson (10-of-10 FT) complemented Buckley with 14 points while Boothe added 10 points to join them in double figures. Brown tied Crawford for a game-high seven assists and Pearson, UT’s leading scorer (18.6 ppg), pulled down a game-high nine rebounds as well.
“Rian Pearson was 2-for-10 [from the floor], but what we’re working on him with is, great players aren’t allowed to have bad games. You take a bad shooting night and turn it into an average game for him. It was an average game for him but an unbelievable night for most people. And a lot of credit for how we did against Crawford goes to him. He was on Crawford more than anyone tonight.”
A’uston Calhoun (5-of-12) and Kraus (4-of-6) added 13 and 12 points respectively to back Crawford in the Falcons’ losing effort.
“When you look at our schedule, we have the toughest schedule of anyone in the league to this point,” Kowalczyk said. “I wasn’t alarmed at all about coming into this game 2-3. I just wanted to make sure we stayed positive and stayed together.
“Right now we have to go on the road with confidence and make sure we play Ball State 40 minutes on Wednesday night.”
UT travels to Muncie, Ind., to take on the Cardinals at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 before heading to DeKalb, Ill., to battle with Northern Illinois at 2 p.m. Feb. 2.