After finding themselves down by 13 in the first half, Toledo (14-2, 2-1 MAC) managed to string together a comeback sparked by J.D. Weatherspoon and finished off by Julius Brown to give the Rockets a 67-65 win against Buffalo (8-5, 2-1 MAC) in an instant classic Wednesday night at Savage Hall.
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With the game tied at 59-59 and 1:32 remaining, Toledo junior Julius Brown and Buffalo junior Will Regan began to trade baskets to give their respective teams the lead. Brown made two free throws, followed by a Regan layup. Brown would respond with a jumper, but Regan would hit another layup. With 15 seconds remaining, Brown made two more three throws after being fouled by Buffalo senior Jarod Oldham, which resulted in him fouling out.
However, Buffalo freshman Shannon Evans managed to turn a near turnover into a game-tying basket with 2.4 seconds left.
Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk called a timeout to draw up a hail-mary play. Senior Matt Smith threw a baseball pass three quarters of the way down the court on the inbounds, which was caught by sophomore Nathan Booth.
He made a quick touch pass to Brown, who nailed a jumper from 15 feet as time expired to give Toledo the 67-65 win, with fans rushing the court and hoisting Brown in celebration.
The Bulls were on fire from the tip, hitting nine of their first twelve shots and were up 26-13 midway through the first half. Much of Buffalo's points came from behind the arc, connecting on five of their first eight attempts.
Toledo began their slow comeback in the second half, and finally started to gain momentum when junior J.D. Weatherspoon caught an alley oop from teammate Julius Brown. Weatherspoon then followed up with another dunk and a three-pointer to give the Rockets their first lead of the game at 44-43 with 11:51 remaining.
From then on, the teams began to exchange leads, with either never gaining an advantage of more than three points.
Despite their hot start, Buffalo finished 28-67 from the field, as Toledo turned up the defense in the second half, resulting in a total of nine steals and forced the Bulls to commit 14 turnovers.
"I thought in the first half we didn't defend very well...but overall very pleased with the win," said Kowalczyk during the post-game interview.
One of the biggest differences in the game was Toledo's ability to get to the charity stripe. They attempted a total of 24 free throws (making 18) while Buffalo only attempt six, making three.
Toledo was led in scoring by Brown with 20 points, who also account for six assists and was 8-8 from the free throw line. Also scoring in double figures were Weatherspoon with 13, as well as Justin Drummond and Rian Pearson, both with 12.
Senior Javon McCrea, and early candidate for MAC Player of the Year, led the Bulls with 20 points and also tallied 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double on the season. Senior Joshua Freelove contributed 16 points for the Bulls, the only other player to score in double figures.
Buffalo (8-5, 2-1), snapping their four game winning streak and notching their first loss in MAC play, will return home to face Kent State at 6:00 p.m. Saturday.
Toledo (14-2, 2-1) will face a tough test on the road against Akron at 11:00 a.m. Saturday.