The Western Michigan Broncos were three minutes away from a berth in the MAC tournament semi-finals and a division championship. In those three short minutes, it all fell apart. The Toledo Rockets staged an epic comeback in front of a raucous crowd at Savage Arena and ultimately won 96-85 in overtime.
The Broncos have a trip to Cleveland already sewn up, but this loss may ultimately force them to play an extra game. Meanwhile, the Rockets' comeback vaults them onto the top of the league standings. If Toledo wins their final two games, they will be the top seed in the conference tournament.
Western Michigan's Tucker Haymond scored the first five points of the game, but Toledo fought back to tie the game 7-7 at the 5:30 mark of the period. The game developed slowly at first, as both teams struggled to find shooting consistency. The Broncos ultimately found that with the help of sharp-shooter David Brown. Brown had a torrid first half that started with a 3-pointer that broke the 7-7 deadlock.
The Broncos took control with a 10-0 run that included treys from Kellen McCormick and Austin Richie. Toledo continuously pushed WMU for much of the half and trailed by as few as three at one point. However, David Brown and Shayne Whittington dominated the half and allowed the Broncos to maintain their lead. Brown made four 3-pointers and scored 18 points, while Whittington added nine.
After Toledo cut their deficit to 29-26, Brown and Whittington led Western Michigan on an 12-3 run for a 12-point lead (41-29), which was their biggest of the half. Two minutes later, the horn sounded for halftime with WMU ahead 45-33.
Toledo continued to push as the second half began, and their defense held the Broncos to just three field goals during the first seven minutes. Rian Pearson drilled a 3-pointer for the Rockets to cut the WMU lead to 53-47, but the Broncos responded with a 9-2 run. They held their biggest lead of the game, 13 points, with eight minutes left.
Western Michigan continued to repel Toledo's comeback attempts, and Whittington's jumper with 3:18 left gave them a 75-63 lead. It looked for all the world as if WMU was going to get the win...until things fell apart.
Jonathan Williams got an "and-1" layup and converted the free throw. Connor Tava, who played with foul trouble all evening, then turned the ball over, and Nathan Boothe followed that by drilling a 3-pointer. In just 19 seconds, WMU's lead was cut in half.
On the ensuing possession, Boothe blocked a shot by Brown. Rian Pearson recovered the ball and threw long to Julius Brown, who poured in a layup. Toledo played a press defense that forced two more turnovers on awful throw-away passes, and Justin Drummond followed each with layups.
Pressure was relieved with the game in a 75-75 tie, and the Rockets forced another turnover. Williams converted a pair of free throws after a foul, and the 14-0 run was complete. In just 2:30, Toledo went from trailing by 12 to leading by two. Finally, WMU's Haymond forced Boothe to foul out, and he made both free throws to tie the game at 77. Brown missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer for Toledo, and the game went to overtime.
J.D. Weatherspoon started the overtime period with a layup, and Pearson followed by sinking a 3-pointer. All of a sudden, the Rockets led 82-77 just one minute into overtime. Toledo dominated the extra frame. Over the following three minutes, they made six free throws and took a 90-81 lead before WMU finally made their first field goal of the overtime. By then, it was too late, and four Toledo free throws inside the final minute allowed the Rockets to cruise to a 96-85 win.
Toledo finished the game by shooting 45.3 percent. After making just one-third of their shots in the first 20 minutes, they hit over 50 percent after halftime. They also made four of five shots in overtime. Western Michigan was essentially the opposite. They finished the game with a 53.6 shooting percentage, but it all went downhill after a 65.4 percent effort in the first half. WMU was just 11-of-23 in the second half and only 2-of-7 in overtime. In particular, the 3-pointer turned on the Broncos. After going 8-of-12 in the first half from beyond the arc, WMU missed their final 11 3-pointers.
The foul discrepancy further hurt Western Michigan's efforts. The Broncos were whistled for 28 fouls to just 16 for Toledo, and that allowed the Rockets to take 17 more free throws. UT made 15 of those 17 extra shots.
Toledo also had significant edges in rebounds and turnovers. They out-rebounded WMU 38-29, including 19-9 on offense, and they forced 18 turnovers while giving away just 12. These numbers led to Toledo out-scoring the Broncos 57-34 in second-chance points combined with points off turnovers.
All five starters scored in double figures for Toledo, and that group was led by Drummond, who scored 28. He made eight of his 14 shots and 12 of 15 free throws. He also grabbed a team-best eight rebounds. Brown struggled with his shot but nailed nine of 10 free throws to score 18 points. He also contributed by dishing out 10 assists.
As noted above, Brown and Whittington dominated for the Broncos. Brown finished the game with 29 points, but he tailed off significantly after halftime. He made nine of 23 shots but just four of his 15 3-pointers. On the other hand, Whittington excelled all game and ended up with 25 points and 13 rebounds.
Toledo improves their overall record to 24-5 with the victory, while Western Michigan's loss drops their mark to 19-9. Both teams are now 12-4 in MAC games and are tied with Buffalo for first place in the overall MAC standings. Play for each resumes on Tuesday night, as the Rockets travel to Central Michigan while the Broncos host Northern Illinois.