Josh Lemons has been watching and hearing about Jordon Crawford for about as long as he can remember.
And what he has learned is this: Crawford can score from about anywhere on the court at about anytime he wants.
Lemons followed Crawford as the point guard at LaSalle High in Cincinnati. And then he followed him to northwest Ohio and the Mid-American Conference.
But that’s as far as he went. Crawford is a senior at Bowling Green. Lemons, a freshman, opted for Toledo.
Saturday night, they met as rivals. Lemons and two Rocket starters, Rian Pearson and Juice Brown, were charged in an alternating effort with shutting Crawford down, which is somewhere between not easy and not possible. The diminutive BG guard has topped 20 points on seven occasions and has been in double figures 17 times.
Nothing changed at Savage Arena as Crawford scored exactly 20. But six of them came in the final 42 seconds, essentially meaningless in a 75-62 Toledo victory.
“He is the slipperiest kid I think I’ve ever seen,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said of Crawford. “When he’s on fire, he can shoot them into any game.”
The Rocket trio prevented the “on fire” part, and UT cruised to victory, snapping a four-game skid against the rival Falcons.
Kowalczyk calls Lemons UT’s best on-the-ball defender, and Brown said he is “one of the best defensive players I’ve ever played with.”
A lot of the credit for that, Lemons said, goes to Crawford.
After the BG star graduated from LaSalle, he’d return to Cincinnati to practice and play in summer leagues, often working with Lemons.
“He taught me a lot of things, especially how to pressure the ball,” Lemons said.
And the young Rocket put it to use against his mentor Saturday night.
“Yeah, I tried,” he said, laughing.
Brown and Lemons both said the key to defending Crawford is not out around the 3-point line, as you might imagine, but in the paint.
“When he gets in there, he is so creative and makes such smart decisions and passes so well,” Lemons said.
Sure enough, even with all the emphasis on stopping Crawford, he finished with seven assists and just two turnovers.
Pearson covered him a lot on the drive because he had some length to use against the 5-foot-6 Crawford.
Length doesn’t help much against him on the perimeter because he jumps so well and, through years of practice, has perfected his fall-away shot with a rapid-fire release.
“All you can do is keep your hands high at his forehead,” Brown said.
It worked to some degree as Crawford had an 8-for-22 shooting night, including 1-of-7 from 3-point range.
Brown, meanwhile, was 7-of-11 en route to 14 points while matching Crawford’s seven assists.
Lemons made just one basket, but that pull-up jumper put UT ahead 40-28 less than six minutes into the second half. Later, he sent a perfect fast-break pass to Pearson for a slam that put the Rockets in full control.
“I don’t worry about how many minutes or how many points,” Lemons said. “It’s just my job to come in and play defense.”
Mission accomplished, against a tough customer, by Lemons and all the Rockets.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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