"We played bad, plain and simple."
That was Toledo's head coach Tod Kowalczyk after his Rocket basketball team was stunned Wednesday night on the road against an upstart Western Michigan Bronco team. The Rockets (12-2, 0-1) have not won in Kalamazoo since the 2006-07 season and have only 1 win in University Arena in the past 10 seasons.
The Rockets fell into a huge hole early after nailing a three to start the game. After the Rockets pulled within 1 point with 16:30 to go in the 1st half, the Broncos started to run away with the game, going on a 30-9 run over the next 9 minutes to take a commanding 22 point lead with 7:30 to go in the half.
Sophomore forward Connar Tava and junior point guard Austin Richie were keys to the run, as Tava's inside game provided easy baskets and a few key rebounds, and he even drew a key charge mid-way through the half. Richie, meanwhile, paced the offense and showed his "Buckets" nickname, draining a quadruplet of three-pointers while driving the lane and drawing fouls.
However, Toledo would not go away quietly.
Kowalcyzk eventually turned on the pressure and slowly was able to get his Rocket team back into the game, pulling within 14 points at the half. Toledo would then come out to start the 2nd half strong, chipping away at the lead slowly. After the Broncos would re-work the lead back to 16 points with 6:46 to go in the game, Kowalcyzk again put on the pressure and in just 2 minutes had his team within 4 points of the Broncos.
But that's as close as they would get.
Foul trouble coupled with missed shots doomed Toledo, as they fell for the first time to an un-ranked team this season. Justin Drummond led the Rockets with 18 points, but fouled out with 2 minutes to go in the game. Rian Pearson finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. Tava led all scorers with 25 points for the Broncos, going 9-9 from the field. Richie finished with 19 points and senior center Shayne Whittington finished with a double-double getting 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"I just smile. It's who we are. This team is full of dogs from the pound," Bronco head coach Steve Hawkins said after the game. "They're a bunch of mutts out there and that's the way we play. We're not going to be pretty all of the time." What Hawkins was referring to was his team's abysmal 56% mark from the free-thrown line. His Bronco team outscored Toledo from the charity stripe 23-21, but took 11 more free-throws, getting to the line 41 times.
The Broncos now will head to Oxford to take on the Miami RedHawks on Saturday, after they downed Central Michigan Wednesday as well. The Rockets head home to take on that Central Michigan squad, also on Saturday.