The debate at a conference tournament is often who has the advantage. The higher seeded team that has fresh legs? Or, the lower seeded team that has already played a game on that floor? The answer to the debate tonight was definitely fresh legs.
On Thursday night, the Toledo Rockets (#4 seed) were in control throughout in a convincing 78-67 win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles (#8 seed) in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Rockets had lost to the Eagles in the season finale in Ypsilanti, 85-59. Toledo head coach Tod Kowalcyzk felt his team had something to prove in this one. "It was a good win for us," said Kowalczyk. "I helps remove that sour taste in our mouths on how we ended the season last week."
The MAC has always been a guard-dominated league and Toledo's All-MAC performer Julius "Juice" Brown and his running mate, Justin Drummond carried on the tradition in this game. But, they did get some help from Rocket big men Nathan Boothe and J.D. Weatherspoon.
Just as the Eagles guards Raven Lee and Mike Talley did last night in their second round win over Bowling Green, Brown controlled the game for the Rockets. When Toledo needed someone to step-up and make a play in this game, Brown was always there to either score the basketball or dish to someone else who did. Brown finished with 17 points and a team high eight assists.
The Eagles guard tandem that caused so many problems for Bowling Green last night, didn't have an answer in this one. Lee, who had 27 points last night, had 16 against Toledo and was only 1 of 8 from 3-point.
The Eagles were also dominated on the boards in this game, another reversal of fortune from last night. The Rockets outrebounded the Eagles 44 to 33. Weatherspoon had a game-high 15 rebounds, as well as several highlight reel dunks.
The Rockets seemed to be getting to every loose ball, another sign Eastern Michigan might have been suffering from this being their three game in the last four days.
The Rockets held a 38-29 advantage at halftime thanks to a strong start from Brown and Boothe. Both players had nine points at the intermission. In the second half, the Eagles fought back to within five points, 45-40 with 15 minutes to play. But then Eastern Michigan suffered through a stretch where they didn't score for almost four-minutes. By then, the Rockets had built the lead back to 52-40 with nine minutes play and for all practical purposes the game was over.
Boothe led the Rockets in scoring with 20 points and added nine rebounds. Besides Brown, Weatherspoon (13) and Justin Drummond (11) were the other Toledo players scoring in double figures. As a team, The Rockets shot 29 of 60 (48%) from the field and went 17 of 23 from the free throw line. Lucky for Toledo, they didn't need the 3-point shot as they converted only 3 of 13 in the game.
Karrington Ward and Talley both added 12 points in the game for the Eagles. Eastern Michigan took a whopping 28 3-pointers, making only eight for only a 23 percent average. Again, in stark contrast to their performance the night before.
The Rockets (21-12) advance to the semifinals on Friday night, where they will face the tournament's number one seed, the Central Michigan Chippewas (22-7). The Eagles finish the season at 21-14 and will have to wait to see if they get invited to postseason play.