Toledo Beats Ball State

The Toledo Rockets came into the night a dismal 4-21 and were facing a West Division-leading Ball State squad that had just knocked off league-leading Buffalo at Buffalo. But Toledo has owned the Cardinals at Savage Arena, and their 71-67 victory was the 7th straight over Ball State on Toledo's home court.

Toledo, OH - Toledo's Rockets came into the night a dismal 4-21 and were facing a West Division-leading Ball State squad that had just knocked off league-leading Buffalo at Buffalo. The Cardinals own the #2 ranked defense in the MAC, and Toledo certainly didn't fair well in their matchup with the #1 squad, Miami.

But tonight the Rockets came out firing, hitting their first 3 shots of the night. And while they were merely trading baskets with Ball State at that point, it seemed to give the boys in Midnight Blue a boost of confidence. The Rockets opened up a modest 5 point lead with 13:18 showing on the clock, but the Cards chipped away at it, eventually taking the lead at the 11:09 mark.

BSU stretched the lead to 7, but the Rockets wouldn't fold, getting within 2 at the 4:52 mark before Ball State outscored the home team 7-2 to finish the half. It was a half that saw the Rockets struggle a bit offensively after opening up so well, but played the rest of the half well enough to have a lead. A couple of amazing plays by Ball State kept that from happening though. Twice they made off-balance or running shots with the shot clock winding down, and a 3rd time Amos fouled a 3 point shooter with only 3 seconds left (he made two of the free throws).

On any other night, the Rockets may have folded. Not tonight.

Once again, Tyrone Kent (10-14, 26 points) found himself in early foul trouble, picking up his 2nd on a questionable call at the 10:00 mark, and only played 11 minutes in the opening stanza. Jonathan Amos scored 7 of his 14 in the first half, while Justin Anyijong added 6 of his 12. Coach Gene Cross challenged Kent to be more aggressive offensively in the 2nd half, seeing openings that Kent could take advantage of, and Kent made the most of it. #31 went off for 22 points in the 2nd half, often taking his man off the dribble and either finishing with a bucket or drawing a foul.

The Rockets opened the 2nd half the same way they started the first offensively, and added a good dose of defense to go along with it. Toledo mixed a tenacious man-to-man with a couple of zone looks, including a 2-3 and a box-and-one. Ball State ended up shooting 50% on the game, but were also guilty of 16 turnovers, including 9 UT steals. As a result of that defense, UT had 13 more scoring opportunities than the visitors as BSU took 3 more shots from the floor, but 16 fewer free throws. And Coach Cross had to be especially happy with the number of turnovers – 5 in each half. And for a change, the Rockets were +2 in assists.

Another positive that bodes well for the Rockets was the balance of scoring. UT had 4 players in double figures, with Mohamed Lo joining Amos, Anyijong, and Kent with 10 markers. Lo also added 7 boards, including 4 offensive rebounds, in 33 minutes. Point guard Larry Bastfield had no turnovers on the night, and 4 assists, and until only 1:11 remained in the game had zero points. But the shot clock ticking down, Bastfield found himself at the top of the key with his first pass option, Kent, covered. His second option, Amos, was also blanketed. So with 9 seconds left, he broke for the lane, going by a screen and drawing a bigger defender. Bastfield stopped, faded a bit, and found nothing but the bottom of the net with 2 seconds left on the shot clock for his only field goal of the night, giving the Rockets a 4 point lead.

There was no point in the game that a lead seemed safe, and the last 9 seconds would be no different. Ty Kent hit 2 free throws (he shot 50% from the line for the night) to put Toledo up 3. Ball State's Brandon Lampley then made one of two free throws with 3 seconds remaining, missing the 2nd intentionally. Jonathan Amos rebounded and was immediately fouled, then calmly sank the 2 free throws for the final 71-67 tally. The game ended, appropriately, on a Ball State turnover as they threw the ball the length of the court out of bounds, leaving the Rockets with the task of getting it inbounds and holding on.

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