Senior night is a time for schools to recognize those student-athletes who put in a full career's worth of work both on and off the court. It also allows for parents of those students to come see their child one last time in action. Taylor Perry was one of those seniors for Western Michigan. And even though his parents were caught up in Winter Storm Quo and missed joining him on the court for introductions, he changed his status quo and put on a show.
Perry came out and scored the first two buckets for the Broncos. And while Nathan Boothe paced the Toledo Rockets with his solid play inside and out, the senior guard was able to do just enough to keep his team in it, scoring 11 first half points, good enough for his 2nd highest career total in points for a game. However, Boothe and Jonathan Williams had 13 and 10 respectively to hold a 33-28 halftime lead.
The Rockets would come out of the half on fire from three-point land, hitting four of their first five shots from long-range. However, they would pile up fouls as well, with Boothe getting three more fouls to go with his one from the first half to send him to the bench with 13 minutes to play. Over the next minute, Zach Garber and Jaelan Sanford - who opened the half with two of those three-pointers - would also pick up their fourth fouls to put Toledo in a very uncomfortable position over the last 12 minutes, despite holding a 47-37 lead.
After the Garber foul, the Broncos would go on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to one. Getting six of those points from the line, they were aided by a Tucker Haymond three to spark the decent crowd that managed to brave the blizzard in Kalamazoo.
And despite a short 5-0 run by the Rockets off a Williams "and-one" followed by a Navigato breakaway slam, the Broncos would grab the lead behind the resurgent guard play from Bryce Moore and Thomas Wilder. Moore would hit a three ball, and Wilder - who had a quiet first half going 0-for-5 from the floor - grabbed a couple steals for lay-ups to make it 57-56 WMU with 5:27 to go, their first lead since late in the 1st half.
From there, both teams would go cold. Haymond would grab an "and-one" to push the lead to 62-58, but the only scoring from there would be a Boothe up-and-under move over a minute later that would be answered by a Wilder three-ball to make it 65-60. Williams would hit a free throw on the next possession, but the two teams would fail to score over the next two minutes until Williams would get another "and-one" to make it a one-point game with 28.9 seconds to go.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Wilder nearly coughed up the ball to a tight Rocket press, but Haymond was able to grab the ball and find Perry, who was fouled and promptly hit both of his free throws. Toledo would try to hit a three to tie on the next possession, but Boothe's shot was short, and he was forced to foul Wilder after the rebound, where the sophomore hit his 2nd free throw to ice the game. Haymond would get fouled after Williams missed a driving lay-up, and his two free throws made it a 70-64 final.
Haymond and Wilder both had solid a solid 2nd half, finishing the game with 18 points apiece. Haymond added 10 rebounds to his scoring output to finish with a double-double, while Wilder had 5 steals on the night, 4 of which came in the 2nd half. Perry just barely missed tying his career high in points, finishing with 15 despite a poor shooting night from the floor overall. Seth Dugan added 10 points in the paint while guarding Boothe well down the stretch.
For the Rockets, Williams and Boothe finished with 21 and 19 points respectively, and the big man just barely missed out on a double-double before fouling out with 9 rebounds in the final seconds. Their foul trouble inevitably did them in, as Garber also fouled out in the final minute to provide Toledo with very little depth inside as the game went on. Navigato added 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting including two thee-pointers.
And while Perry, Wilder, and Haymond were praised by WMU coach Steve Hawkins after the game, it was the low-post play down the stretch that he lauded over the most.
"Seth (Dugan) was massive for us," he said. "All three of our big guys (were important). I thought Seth was outstanding and I thought Kellen (McCormick), defensively, did a really nice job for us. We got tossed around (at Toledo)...and we didn't want to allow that tonight. Boothe, in my opinion, is the best player in the (MAC) and I thought Seth made him work for every inch of the floor."
The Western Michigan Broncos (12-18, 6-11) now head to rival Central Michigan on Friday with a chance to win the Michigan MAC Trophy. Should they lose, Eastern Michigan wins the trophy via overall record. The Toledo Rockets (17-13, 8-9) host Eastern Michigan in a crucial battle that could mean the difference between hosting a first round game in the MAC Tournament and heading on the road.
|Points||Two tied (18)||J. Williams (21)|
|Rebounds||T. Haymond (10)||N. Boothe (9)|
|Assists||Two tied (3)||S. Mosley (3)|
|Blocks||A. Avery Jr (2)||N. Boothe (1)|
|Steals||T. Wilder (5)||N. Navigato (2)|