Men’s Basketball: UT falls short in crucial MAC West showdownWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In perhaps the most meaningful game any player on the University of Toledo men’s basketball team has played while donning the midnight blue and gold, the Rockets came up just short on Feb. 27 against Western Michigan.
UT fell 65-62 at Savage Arena in a battle between Mid-American Conference (MAC) West division co-leaders.
“It was certainly a tough loss,” said head coach Tod Kowalczyk. “I thought we did some really good things and also had some really poor mistakes. I think tonight was a great learning experience. Tonight was really the first big game that all of those guys have played in.”
Senior guard Dominique Buckley had an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds, but his attempt to draw a foul while heaving up a deep three was unfruitful and the ball bounced off the glass right of the rim.
Toledo led the majority of the second half in a highly contested affair with a Broncos team that bested them 79-56 on Jan. 16 in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“I don’t think the style was that much different. I think our team played better,” said UT junior guard Reese Holliday, who tied his season high with a team-best 16 points off the bench. “Their offense really messed us up the first time; this time we were more prepared for it so we did a better job on defense and we didn’t let their defense dictate our offense as much as we did the first time.”
The tide changed for a final time in the closing minutes. The Rockets led 58-54 with 4:08 remaining when a foul on sophomore guard Julius Brown resulted in a pair of made free throw from WMU junior guard David Brown.
After a media timeout, on the Broncos next possession freshman forward Darius Paul hit teammate Nate Hutcheson on a backdoor pass that gave way to a layup, tying the game at 58 with 3:23 until the final whistle.
Paul followed the assist by snagging a rebound off his own missed shot and nailing a jumper for the last of his game-high 28 points, a make that gave the away team the lead for good. A teammate of UT freshman center Nathan Boothe at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Ill., Paul went 9-of-16 from the floor, 8-of-9 from the free throw line and added a game-high 12 rebounds to record a double-double.
“I think he’s just a good player,” Brown said. “He’s very active, has good hands and he can finish around the basket.”
UT trailed 63-61 with 31 second left and Brown had an opportunity to tie the game from the free throw line, but only converted on 1-of-2 attempts. Hutcheson made both his shots at the other end from the charity stripe following a foul on the inbounds pass to push Western’s lead to 65-62 with 22 seconds left.
Brown then missed a three-pointer from NBA-range, though the Broncos could not capitalize as, after another foul on the inbounds dish, junior center Shane Whittington missed both shots from the free throw line, setting up Buckley’s attempt to send the game to overtime.
“There were a couple points in the game when we could have spread it out, but I don’t think we took advantage of it,” Brown said. “I think that came back to haunt us in the long run.”
Holliday gave the Rockets the first multi-possession lead of the game at 21-17 just past the six minute-mark of the first stanza on a pair of free throws. He followed up on the following possession by draining a three-pointer. Holliday hit 4-of-6 treys on the night, finishing 5-of-7 from the field.
He was joined in double figures by Brown (15) and junior guard Rian Pearson (14). Pearson, who was averaging a league-high 18 ppg heading into the contest, shot 5-of-14 from the field and accounted for six of Toledo’s 11 turnovers. As a team, the Rockets shot 40 percent (25-of-55) for the game.
Paul scored 11-straight points for WMU on the late in the first half to help the Broncos stay within a possession at 29-28 heading into the locker room. Brown scored 15 points off the bench to aid Paul’s career-high scoring effort.
The loss puts Toledo a game behind the Broncos in the MAC West division with three games remaining for each squad.
“This would have put us in a better position [to win the MAC West], certainly,” Kowalczyk said. “But nobody has won the championship and anyone who thinks that’s the case is sadly mistaken. It was a basketball game and there’s another big basketball game on Saturday (March 2). To be honest, I’m curious and excited to see how we respond.”