The opener of the Mid-American Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament hasn’t always been kind to the number one seed. Just ask the 1999 Bowling Green Falcons, who were bounced as the tournament’s #1 seed in the first year it was held in Cleveland. But, the Toledo Rockets managed to avoid such diaster on Thursday afternoon, fighting off apesky Ball State Cardinals team by a final score of 91-89 in overtime at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The Rockets jumped out to a commanding 10-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes. But, the Cardinals rallied to tie the game several times before the Rockets again controlled the last three minutes of the half to take a 41-34 lead into the break.
The Rockets missed their first 11 shots and went more than four minutes without scoring to start the second half. The Cardinals rallied to tie the score several times midway through the second half, the last at 46-46 with 12 minutes to play.
The Rockets built another seven point lead with just 2:45 left to play at 73-66. However, the Cardinals would not go away. After Marreon Jackson hit two free throws to give Toledo a two point lead, Ball State’s Jarron Coleman went coast-to-coast to send the game into overtime at 79-79. The referees reviewed the last Cardinal bucket for several minutes before determining it came before the buzzer.
In overtime, Ball State scored the first five points to take its first lead of the game, and led 84-79. But back-to-back three point plays gave the Rockets the lead right back at 87-86, and they never relinquished it. The Cards had at least three chances at tying the game with 15 seconds remaining, missing two open looks from three-point range and drawing a foul late in the proceedings. Down two and shooting a free throw with just .8 left on the clock, the Cardinals missed on purpose, managed to initiate contact with the ball on the attempted push-back, but it bounced short, allowing Toledo had held on for a heart-stopping victory.
MAC Player of the Year Marreon Jackson led the Rockets with 29 points. JT Shumate added 16 for Toledo. Jarron Coleman led all scores in the game with 33 points for Ball State. KJ Walton added 23 for the Cardinals.
Toledo almost lost the game at the free throw line, shooting only 65 percent on 21-of-32 attempts. The Rockets, now 21-7, will advance and face the winner of Kent State and Ohio tomorrow evening.
Ball State, as a result of tonight’s action, will finish the season 10-13.