The Toledo Rockets won the second "Battle of I-75" of 2014 in dramatic fashion when Rian Pearson drained a game-winning shot with 3.2 seconds left. Pearson's heroics lifted the Rockets to a 60-58 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons on Thursday night at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The stunning loss continued a devastating trend for the Falcons. Each of their last four games has been determined by two or fewer points, and in three of those games, they lost when their opponent sank a game-winner within the final five seconds.
For much of the game, itt appeared as if the final seconds would not matter. Bowling Green scored the game's first two points on a jumper by Cameron Black just 17 seconds into the contest. Toledo scored 16 of the next 20 points and built a 16-6 lead, as the Falcons went ice-cold from the floor. As the Rockets were building their 10-point lead, BGSU went 3-of-18 from the floor.
The Falcons managed to keep the deficit at 10 points until there were eight minutes left in the half. At that point, the Rockets went on a 7-0 run, which was capped by a Pearson jumper for a 30-13 lead with just 5:42 left in the first half. The rest of the half was even, but Toledo led by a very comfortable 39-23 at the half.
BGSU made only eight of 34 shots (23.5%) in the first half. They missed six of their seven attempts from behind the arc, and they were 6-of-10 from the free throw line. Toledo attempted one fewer shot but made nearly twice as many (15). They ended the half with a field goal percentage of 45.5. They made a respectable three of eight 3-pointers and were a perfect 6-of-6 at the charity stripe.
Perhaps the most revealing stat of the first half was rebounds. Toledo out-rebounded the Falcons 24-20, but half of Bowling Green's total was on the offensive end. Still, despite 10 extra chances, the Falcons still only scored 23 points, and Toledo actually out-scored BGSU 8-6 in second-chance points.
The second half started very slowly for both teams, and a 3-pointer by Julius Brown was the only scoring in the first four minutes. That gave Toledo a 42-23 lead what appeared to be complete control of the game. Appearances can be deceiving, though, and just as they did two weeks ago at Savage Arena, the Falcons stormed back from a huge deficit to make Toledo sweat.
Anthony Henderson finally broke through for Bowling Green with a jumper 4:16 into the second half. Ninety seconds later, Nathan Boothe sank a jumper of his own and briefly restored a 16-point lead. However, that would be Toledo's last field goal for nearly nine minutes.
During that span of 8:49, Toledo was able to attempt only five field goals and had the same number of turnovers. They did manage to get to the three throw line for six attempts, and they made four. However, BGSU scored 25 points during the same time frame and trailed just 49-48 with six minutes left.
The Falcons actually had several chances to take the lead but missed on six consecutive shots that would have done the trick. Brown finally ended Toledo's drought with a jumper for a 51-48 lead. Just 5:28 remained on the clock. Two minutes later, Brown converted another jumper for a 56-53 lead, but on the ensuing possession, Anthony Henderson sank a 3-pointer to finally tie the game at 56 with 2:45 left.
Cameron Black split a pair of free throws to give BGSU a 57-56 edge, which was their first lead since the opening minute of the game. With one minute left, Richaun Holmes blocked a Pearson jumper and pulled down the rebound. He passed to Jehvon Clarke, who tired to score a transition basket rather than run time off the clock. He missed, and on the return trip down the floor, Brown hit a shot from near the top of the key for a 58-57 lead.
Clarke missed again on BGSU's next possession, but Spencer Parker got the offensive rebound and was fouled with 12 seconds left. He split the free throws and tied the game at 58. Toledo had no timeouts left, so they had to immediately take the ball down the floor. Brown found Pearson on the left baseline, and Pearson hit nothing but net. The dagger with 3.2 seconds on the clock gave Toledo a 60-58 lead.
Clarke tried a last-second desperation shot from near mid-court as the buzzer sounded. The shot looked like it might go in, but it harmlessly bounced off the rim as Toledo celebrated another victory.
After a horrendous shooting performance in the first half, Bowling Green made half of their 28 attempts in the second half. Toledo went the opposite way, as they attempted only 18 shots in the entire half and made only six. They turned the ball over nine times and were able to get only one offensive rebound in the half. The Falcons out-scored Toledo by a combined 14-0 in points resulting from turnovers and offensive rebounds.
BGSU held a 38-37 edge in rebounding during the game, including 14-8 on the offensive end. They also forced 17 turnovers and gave the ball away just 13 times. Those takeaways are a large part of what kept BGSU in the game; the Falcons scored 21 points off those Toledo turnovers.
Brown led all players with 21 points. He was 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Pearson added 10 points, including the game-winning two. Justin Drummond paced the Rockets with nine rebounds. For BGSU, Henderson led the team with 15 points. Black scored 14 and Holmes added 14, and both added eight rebounds. Spencer Parker scored five and secured a game-best 10 rebounds. Clarke scored only seven points and made just 3 of 17 shots from the field.
Thanks to the victory, Toledo is 22-4 overall and 10-3 in the MAC. They remain tied with Western Michigan for the Western Division lead and the MAC's best overall record. They resume play on Sunday evening with a home game against Ball State.
Bowling Green's loss drops their overall record to 11-15. They are now 5-8 against MAC foes, and they will play their next game on Sunday afternoon at Miami.