Survive and advance is often the motto for teams in March.
The top-seeded Toledo Rockets did just that— barely— on Thursday morning against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the opening game of the 2022 Mid-American Conference Men’s Tournament at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, taking home the win by a final score of 72-71.
The game was close throughout with neither having a lead of more than seven points at any time. The Chippewas held the lead 32-30 at the half and the game remained close until JT Shumate and Setric Millner, Jr. hit back-to-back three-pointers for the Rockets, who took their largest lead at 64-57 with 5:57 to play.
The Rockets till held a seven-point lead (68-61) with just 2:29 left in the game. But the Chippewas refused to go away. Harrison Henderson hit an old-fashion three-point play to pull the Chips within a point at 70-69 with just 57 left to play. Henderson then scored on a dunk and the Chips took the lead, 72-71 with just :20 left.
Toledo’s RayJ Dennis would answer with a layup to give the Rockets the lead back, 72-71, with just :10 on the clock. Central Michigan turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound pass after Shumate read the eyes of the inbounder and swatted away the ball, which immediately bounced off the CMU player meant to catch it, giving Toledo the ball with less than a second removed from the clock.
The Chips immediately fouled Toledo’s Ryan Rollins, who subsequently missed the front end of the one-and-one. Out of timeouts, the Chips raced down the floor and Henderson heaved a contested desperation shot from outside NBA three-point range, missing badly. CMU could not pick up the rebound, allowing Toledo to survive another day.
Milliner, Jr. led the Rockets in scoring with 22 points, while Henderson led the Chips with 21 points and 10 rebounds. The Rockets improve to 26-6 on the season while the Chips finish at 7-23. The Rockets advance to the MAC Semifinals on Friday afternoon against either #4 Akron or #5 Buffalo