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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2013

Final 2 plays are not why Rockets lost

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Basketball coaches like to say, regardless of the final score, that no one possession wins or loses a game.

Toledo’s Tod Kowalczyk could repeat that Wednesday night because he had any of a half-dozen possessions to pick from while reviewing a 65-62 loss to Western Michigan at Savage Arena.

The Rockets’ last two possessions against the Broncos were not things of beauty. They opted for 3-point shots on both occasions, although it wasn’t mandatory on the first. Both plays seemed a bit disjointed, and neither attempt came close to finding the mark.

The game was lost long before those last gasps.

“There were a couple points in the game we could have spread [the score] out, but we didn’t take advantage and it came back to haunt us in the long run,” said point guard Juice Brown.

Darius Paul of WMU haunted UT, too, with 28 points and 12 rebounds in a dominating performance. If he didn’t clinch Mid-American Conference freshman-of-the-year honors something is wrong. And if he is not a future MAC player of the year then something might be wrong, too.

Brown may have been right. Despite Paul and a 15-point second half by Bronco teammate David Brown off the bench, Toledo had plenty of opportunities.

Early in the second half, after Rian Pearson had made two straight baskets for a 36-31 lead, he spun on a drive to attempt another and was called for a charge. WMU scored the next six points.

Toledo led by four with 7½ minutes to play when Dominique Buckley made a fine play to strip the ball loose and then an even better pass to Pearson for a wide-open layup that was missed. About 90 seconds later, still up by four, Brown aggressively went to the hoop and, said Kowalczyk, “was clearly fouled, but there was no call.”

UT led 56-51 when Holliday, who had just hit a 3-pointer, drove the baseline with a fairly clean lane and lost the handle with the ball bouncing out of bounds.

There were some big missed free throws. We could go on. You get the point. It all added up to too many empty possessions at pivotal points of the game.

“There were times in the game we could have gone from five to seven to nine,” Kowalczyk said, referring to point margins. “That was what we needed. We just weren’t together for 40 minutes. But when we played together we were good, really good.”

At times, yes. The 6-foot-4 Holliday was a big reason for that, playing 27 minutes off the bench and producing team highs with 16 points and eight rebounds as UT got schooled on the boards.

“It’s probably one of the most painful losses of my basketball career, if not the most painful,” he said after the Rockets dropped out of a first-place tie in the MAC West.

WMU coach Steve Hawkins pointed out that while Holliday had trouble dealing with the Paul, the 6-8 Bronco had equal trouble defending Holliday out at the arc.

Holliday was 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, but didn’t touch the ball on UT’s last two possessions. On the first, Matt Smith passed on what looked to be an open trey and Brown ended up taking one that was not nearly as good. Two missed Bronco free throws offered a reprieve, but Buckley’s long triple at the buzzer missed.

The Rockets, though, shot themselves in the foot long before then.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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