There was a short delay with 2:52 left in last night's Ball State-Toledo game at Savage Arena. They needed towels and mops to wipe up a trail of blood over nearly half the court.
For once, for the first time in Mid-American Conference play this season, for the first time in 20 games dating to early December, it wasn't the Rockets' blood being let.
The drought is over. The losing streak has ended. The veil of blood and tears has finally lifted.
Toledo's men won a basketball game. The opponent was a live, breathing team, the first-place team in the MAC West at day's start, to be precise.
So there was some serious role reversal. It was Ball State shooting like an 0-16 conference team; it was Toledo taking an opponent's punch and delivering a roundhouse of its own.
The Rockets led by 18 points at one stage of the second half and won 45-42 only when a BSU 3-pointer at the buzzer missed its mark.
But the pivotal moment for the Rockets came before that, at right around the 4:00 mark.
Two minutes earlier, UT led by 14 points. But the Cardinals made a barrage of shots - the only time in the game, really, for a team that shot .267 overall and made just one of a dozen 3-point tries - to pull within 39-33.
Just about everybody in a crowd of 3,892 had seen this act before. There was more than enough time for the Rockets, 3-26 and not exactly the most confident team in the hoops world, to fold their tent.
But freshman guard Malcolm Griffin beat the Cardinal defense up the court and drove for a layup. Seconds later, Jake Barnett grabbed a defensive rebound, made a nice outlet pass to Griffin, who timed a lob perfectly to Justin Anyijong for a fast-break layup.
"That got the bench and the crowd back in the game and gave us the momentum to finish it," Griffin said.
The Rockets then forced two straight turnovers to thwart Cardinal possessions - walk-on Jay Shunnar, who had a couple 3-point baskets in the first half, made one of the plays and Griffin made the other, getting away with an inadvertent swipe at BSU guard Randy Davis that bloodied his nose and led to the cleanup delay.
"That moment was huge for us," UT coach Gene Cross said of his team stretching its lead back to double digits. "The way we took that punch and punched back was pivotal for this game and, hopefully, for our future. For them to experience that could possibly change the course of what this team is supposed to become."
Cross said the outcome meant that "everything we've been going through has been for something. To beat the first-place team … I can go to our guys in practice and say, 'You are what I've been telling you. You're a good team.' We just had to get out of our own way."
Good probably is an exaggeration. But on this night the Rockets were good enough, and after 19 straight losses, a little hyperbole can be forgiven.
In the first game of yesterday's doubleheader, the UT women beat Ball State 62-48 to clinch the MAC West Division championship.
The men's accomplishment was more modest and came at the other end of the scale.
But the Rockets did avoid the prospect of joining Central Michigan (1994-95) and Akron (1995-96) as the only MAC teams to go 0-18 in league play.
"We've been building up to this," Anyijong said.
UT fans can only hope it doesn't take quite so bloody long to build up to the next one.
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Dave Hackenberg at:
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