Was this game the MAC game of the year? We will let the MAC pundits decide. But Ohio's 95-90, overtime victory over MAC power Toledo brought down the house in Athens in probably the craziest game of the season for Ohio.
Coach Jim Christian afterwards said: "In my 25 years of doing this, this was probably the most fun I've had at a basketball game."
Maurice Ndour was dominant for the victors, scoring a new career-high 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting, all while pulling down 11 rebounds and swatting three shots. Stevie Taylor played what might have been the best game of his career, making big play after big play down the stretch while guarding Toledo's Juice Brown. Taylor scored 23 points on 9-15 shooting and hit three treys. Most importantly, he only turned the ball over once.
Nick Kellogg sent the Convocation Center crowd into a frenzy repeatedly by hitting five three-pointers, while finishing with 19 points. Kellogg also dished out a career-best nine assists. Juice Brown kept the Rockets fighting by hitting clutch shots all afternoon while pouring in 28 points. With a dazzling array of moves and shooting ability, he silenced the "blackout" crowd over and over, also contributing five rebounds and seven assists, making his case as possibly the best point guard in the MAC.
Ohio started things off well early, with Ndour scoring Ohio's first six points and eight of the teams' first 10. Toledo's Ryan Pierson responded accordingly, scoring six of Toledo's first seven points in what was an early 10-7 Ohio lead less than five minutes in.
The rest of the contest played out much like the first five minutes. Toledo's J.D. Weatherspoon, Jonathan Williams, and Justin Drummond played big for the Rockets. After Ndour hit two free throws to tie things up with about 10 minutes left in the first half, the Rockets hit their stride. Weatherspoon hit a jumper, and a hard take to the basket ended up in an and-1, and Jonathan Williams capped off the 8-0 run with a runner in the lane, putting Toledo up 29-21.
The Bobcats responded with a Kellogg three-pointer, another trey from Taylor, and a strong move from the post by Ndour to tie things back up at 29. Kellogg sent Ohio up with yet another three-pointer with 6:56 left in the first half, 32-29. Considering how Ohio had struggled in recent games to reach that elusive mark of 30 before the half, it had to be an encouraging sign, even against a team that has given up a MAC-worst 73.6 points per game coming in.
Ohio kept on scoring; Taylor finished on two consecutive fast-break opportunities, including a long beauty of an outlet pass from Antonio Campbell after an Ndour block off the glass, with Taylor finishing on a nifty reverse high off of the glass for the deuce, making it 43-34. Taylor split the defense for one last bucket before the half, making it a tight, 45-40 game.
Ndour and Jon Smith scored two buckets right out of the half to keep the Ohio faithful cheering before a number of players forced their way back into the contest. The Rockets went on a 12-0 run, effectively taking the lead back from Ohio at a score of 50-49 on a Pierson layup which was followed up by a Justin Drummond basket, 52-49.
Things then become even more chaotic as the two went at it for the next several minutes. Javarez "Bean" Willis hit a three for Ohio. Kellogg hits a free throw to go up one. Juice Brown hits a jumper to send Toledo up one. Travis Wilkins hits a three to put Ohio up two. Toledo's Zach Garber hits an easy bucket to tie. Juice Brown sends Toledo up two with a bucket. T.J. Hall finishes through contact for the foul and the bucket to tie things up once more, now at 58.
Toledo responded again, as all good teams do, this time scoring 11 straight points off of a Williams 3-pointer, a Brown layup, another Williams trey, and once more, a Brown bucket in the paint. Ohio answered right back with Travis Wilkins providing his most critical stretch of the game by hitting a 3-pointer, and assisting on two straight Kellogg shots from long range, bringing the 'Cats within two at 69-67.
At this point Ndour, who had been quiet for much of the second half, began answering the call by getting down low and earning four free throws (all makes) in response to several Toledo baskets. Taylor hit another three to tie the game and Ndour received a pretty high-low pass from Smith on the perimeter as the ball went up and in for the 76-74 Ohio lead.
The Rockets and Bobcats traded punches, giving each other their best shot. Smith and-1, up five. Two Brown free throws, Toledo down three. T.J. Hall gets fouled on a loose ball and missed the front end of a one-and-one. Taylor gets fouled and heads to the line after swooping in on a poor inbounds pass. Taylor knocks down two free throws and Ohio goes up five. Matt Smith hits a three for the rockets, down two again, this time at 83-81.
Ohio got the ball back with 41 seconds left, and ran 25 seconds off the clock before a tipped ball went off of Kellogg's leg and after review, went back to Toledo with 16 seconds left. Brown proceeded to give Ohio the "Juice" and hit a jumper in the face of Taylor with just 7.5 seconds remaining.
Ohio declined to call timeout, and instead elected to let Taylor try a fadeaway in the right corner that bounced off the left side of the rim to send the game into overtime.
As you might have guessed, the two MAC foes went back in forth in overtime, which to any great fan of #MACtion, was a sight to see. Toledo's Brown hit three different shots to catapult Toledo up to one-point leads, but Ohio did not stay down. An Ndour "SLAM" on a beautiful feed into the post put Ohio up 91-90. Taylor then clamped down on Brown in what might have been the most important possession of the game, and securing a five-second call. Taylor then proceeded to hit a jumper/runner right inside the free throw line to put the Bobcats up three.
Toledo, with 24 seconds left, didn't get the look they wanted out of an Ohio timeout, so called one themselves. Everyone knew where the ball was going next. Brown has the opportunity to tie the game up on a try from 25 feet out far on the left wing but the ball fell off the rim and into the hands of the Bobcats' Hall who threw an outlet pass to Taylor who hit the game-securing bucket as Brown gave chase but gave up on in the last seconds. A sigh of collective relief, and euphoric ecstasy was in the air as Ohio escaped with the 95-90 victory.
After the game, Brown said: "It was a really fun environment. We played our hearts out...They just executed down the stretch."
Taylor, still hyped after the game said: "At the end of the day we got stops when we needed to get stops and we got the win."
The win was the Bobcats' third straight game in which they came from behind double digits in second half. Big in that was the 11-24 three-point shooting and 51.% in the game overall from the field.