Toledo fans had to have had their hearts nearly pound out of their chest's Tuesday night as their beloved Rockets' late-season woes nearly culminated in an epic upset in the second to last game of the season. Entering the game with the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament in reach the Rockets (25-5, 13-4 MAC) nearly fell victim to Central Michigan (10-19, 3-14 MAC) on the road, needing some clutch free throws in the final seconds to win 73-69.
With just over three minutes left in the game Justin Drummond sank a layup to build Toledo's lead out to 10 in the fiercely contested game. All seemed to be OK. Then a series of missed shots and costly turnovers coupled with some sharp-shooting from CMU say that lead cut to two a little more than two minutes later after Chris Fowler drained a lay up and drew contact. The Chippewas point guard missed the free throw, but a missed jumper by Toledo gave them the ball with less than 30 seconds to go.
Austin Stewart, unable to bring the ball up court, coughed up a costly turnover and fouled sending Rockets' center Nathan Boothe to the line with 20 seconds to go. The big man drained both pushing the Toledo lead to 71-67 with 20 seconds to go. After a layup from John Simmons cut the lead back down to two UT junior guard Justin Drummond drew the intentional foul from Fowler with five seconds to go., sinking both free throws and icing the win.
It was an impressive escape for a Toledo team which had trouble shaking a feisty CMU squad and actually trailed by as many as four five minutes into the second half. Led by Drummond and junior forward J.D. Weatherspoon, Toledo's superior talent was able to hold off the upset bid and keep their MAC West title hopes alive.
Drummond finished the game with 15 points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists and was crucial down the stretch scoring seven points in the final four minutes. Weatherspoon added 17, six boards and a pair of blocks, dominating the weak CMU front court throughout the game. UT point guard Julius brown chipped in 12 and four assists, while Rian Pearson added eight and Boothe added four and a pair of rebounds.
CMU has come on strong down the stretch of the season and tonight was no different. Four starters scored double digits, lead by Fowler with 15, six dimes and three boards. Stewart, Braylon Rayson and Blake Hibbits had 14, 13 and 11 respectively. But with the team shooting a paltry 5-for-22 from 3-point range and no contribution from the bench (coupled with foul trouble) it wasn't enough to hold off the most efficient offense in the conference.
Despite coming away with the win Toledo actually slipped to No. 2 in the standings due to WMU's come-from-behind win against NIU. The Broncos and Rockets have an identical 13-4 MAC record, but WMU has a better record against opponents from within the Western Division and therefore gets the tie breaker. With Buffalo losing to Akron Tuesday night as well a win vs. EMU on Saturday would guarantee UT no worse than the No. 2 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament. A win and a WMU loss to CMU would give the Rockets the No. 1 seed and the MAC West regular season title.
CMU is all but ensured of getting the No. 11 seed, with a win or a loss, unless Ball State pulls off the road upset over NIU on Saturday. The Chippewas can finish no better than 11th in the conference
A win vs. EMU on Saturday