Boothe brings Rockets to .500 with buzzer-beaterWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Freshman center Nathan Boothe had never made a game-winning shot from the floor in his life. He had never even made a three-pointer while donning the University of Toledo’s midnight blue and gold.
That all changed Feb. 6 when he knocked down a buzzer beater to give the Rockets a 65-64 home win over Miami (Ohio) University.
“I’ve only made one other game-winner and it was on a free throw,” said Boothe, who is now 1-of-5 from behind the arc as a Rocket. “But nothing compares to tonight.”
Admittedly, standout junior forward Rian Pearson was the primary option on the final sequence, but when a pair of RedHawk defenders smothered him on the way to the hoop, Matt Smith directed the inbound pass to Boothe on the far wing. Boothe collected the ball and swiftly launched a shot that found nothing but net as time expired. An official review confirmed the make.
“I got it, brought it down to shoot it and luckily I made it,” the soft-spoken native of Gurnee, Ill. explained.
It took a total of three inbound passes from Smith to Boothe before Toledo (10-10, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) claimed victory.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and the game tied at 62, Miami’s freshman guard Reggie Johnson threw up a shot that bounced off the glass. The Rockets failed to box out and Reggie Johnson swooped in for the put back to give the RedHawks (8-13, 3-6) a two-point advantage with 2.8 seconds left.
Miami head coach John Cooper called a timeout immediately following the bucket, allowing UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk to hold onto his, setting up the events that followed. Kowalczyk insisted after the game, however, that saving the timeout did not provide UT with an advantage.
“We wouldn’t have needed that timeout,” Kowalczyk said. “Our players would have known where to go and what to do. They are well-schooled in special situations.”
Following the RedHawks timeout, Boothe rolled off a screen from Dominique Buckley and managed to pull down a half court pass from Smith with 3.3 seconds left that appeared as though it would sail out of bounds. Kowalczyk immediately burnt his last timeout to halt a sequence that took just .6 seconds off the clock.
“It was a tough pass to catch. I barely got it in my hands, but I got it down,” Boothe said.
On the ensuing inbound pass Smith attempted to find Boothe on the opposite side of the hoop, but instead bounced the ball off the backboard. After the ball ricocheted of the glass, Miami junior forward Jon Harris tore the ball away from Boothe but stumbled to the floor, resulting in a traveling violation that gave way to Boothe’s game-winner off the third inbound pass.
Boothe (13 points) was joined in double figures by Pearson and his game-high 16 points, as well as Juice Brown, who added 16. Brown also dished out a game-high eight assists.
The Rockets shot 51 percent from the field (24-of-47), including 38 percent (7-of-18) from three-point land. UT turned the ball over just 10 times.
MU hit 47 percent of their shots (22-of-47) and made 83 percent (15-of-18) from the line. The RedHawks limited their turnovers to 12.
Johnson led Miami with 16 points while teammates Allen Roberts, Geovonie McKnight and Will Felder contributed 15, 11 and 10 points respectively in the loss.
“I’m not going to make any apologies for winning, but we didn’t play well defensively tonight,” Kowalczyk said. “I thought our perimeter defense was very poor and that caused a lot of problems. That was the reason we could never put them away.”
The Redhawks jumped out to an early 12-6 lead but UT stormed back, eventually ripping off a 19-2 run that gave them a 35-25 edge with 3:30 to go in the first half. Miami scored the final six points of the stanza to cut the advantage to 35-32 at the break.
UT looked to be in control early in second half, grabbing its biggest lead of the night, 49-39, when freshman shooting guard Josh Lemons drilled a jumper with 12:58 to play.
Shortly after, Miami went on a spree of its own, outscoring the Rockets 14-2 to take a 53-51 edge.
Roberts connected on a three to give MU its largest lead of the half, 62-58, with 3:40 remaining, but Smith responded with a three of his own to bring Toledo within a point.
Brown made good on 1-of-2 free throw attempts to tie the game with 1:03 left. The teams traded turnovers before Johnson’s put back and the thrilling finish.
The win brings the Rockets record to .500 for the first time this season. Toledo sits one game behind Western Michigan in the MAC West division with eight conference games remaining.
“We look at it as an accomplish as far as coming back from where we started off,” Smith said. “We started off kind of rough but to see that we can come together and do this well in conference play — and we should have been doing this well all year — it shows that if we come together and stay together as a team we can finally show people how good we really are.”
The Rockets return to action Feb. 9 with an in-division showdown against Eastern Michigan (11-11, 4-4). Tip-off at Savage Arena is slated for 7 p.m.