You might remember the last time these two teams played to open the month.
All of the usual suspects filled up the stat sheet. Maurice Ndour, Stevie Taylor and Nick Kellogg were dominant for the Bobcats, including more assists than the entire Toledo team. The Rockets on the other hand got Julius "Juice" Brown, J.D. Weatherspoon, and Justin Drummond to take care of business, just not quite well enough to take home the victory.
The road rematch 11 days later was probably the most anticipated game of the season.Then Justin Drummond got popped for a DUI and suspended by Todd Kowalczyk.
Then Ohio forward T.J. Hall wound up not travelling with the team to tonight's game, apparently for "failure to adhere to the team's academic policy."
So a couple of notable names were out, but that wasn't about to take any of the shine off this game. The Rockets, namely Weatherspoon, jumped out to an early 10-4 lead, then Ohio closed the gap. Then they opened a 21-13 lead, and Ohio closed the gap again.
There were sloppy rotations and wide open lanes everywhere on offense for both teams. In the first 12 minutes, Jonathan Williams and Matt Smith missed all four of their shot attempts, but everyone else who stepped on the court for the Rockets shot 9-for-13 - the Bobcats were down 23-20 at the under-eight TV timeout despite shooting a "measly" 9-for-21.
At that point it seemed like neither team was missing their suspended starter, but then something changed. Toledo kept getting open, uncontested looks for Rian Pearson. Ohio kept finding themselves in one-and-done possessions a little too often, and only some of them were ending with even clean looks, let alone baskets. The Rockets even found a neat little way to beat the 2-3 zone - throw alley oop lobs to Weatherspoon over top of it.
We knew coming into this one that Drummond's absence would be unlikely to crush the Rockets with the balanced production they get from Pearson, Brown and Weatherspoon. But for Ohio, a team with only two players (Ndour and Kellogg) averaging more than eight points per game on offense, the margin is narrower and even missing a player like Hall, who isn't the best at anything but is a key rotation cog, can throw everything off.
Ohio definitely missed him in the first half, as they allowed the Rockets to make half their shots. You certainly anticipate a balanced and busy offense like theirs to produce. You do not, however, expect both Brown and Pearson to be in double digit points by the half, as Toledo held a 36-30 lead.
Nathan Boothe joined in the action, going from one made basket to double-digit points in the first four minutes of the second half, but Ohio wouldn't go away, as they opened the half making six of eight three-point attempts, including three from Travis Wilkins. The Bobcats gave up an 8-2 run, and then followed it up with a 12-0 run of their own to take a 55-50 lead with about 12 1/2 minutes to play.
I'd argue that a particular sequence late in the second half was a great microcosm of this game. Javarez "Bean" Willis went for a steal at the elbow and didn't get it, but cause a disturbance. This led to Jordan Lauf being wide open in the short corner for a three... which he clanked off the iron. Weatherspoon went all out for the rebound and just barely snagged it to kick it to Pearson - who calmly drilled a jumper and drew the foul.
Pearson was calm and collected throughout a crazy game, as his 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting would suggest. Oh, yeah, he also had six rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers. Easy layups, spot up jumpers, a clean three, he was everywhere. Toledo's offensive balance was everywhere; Weatherspoon had eight points with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first frame, and he was the only starter to not reach at least 12 points.
Ohio had too many odd stretches where their offensive rhythm just unraveled, and they settled for one-and-done possessions with low percentage shots - essentially, playing like they were down 20 when they were never down more than five. Wilkins led the Bobcats with 17 points, most of which came in one hot stretch early in the second half. Ndour was left to handle a suddenly active Boothe without Hall's help and couldn't do it, as he sat several times in the second half before fouling out in the last two minutes.