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Monday, April 21, 2014
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Published: 1/17/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Execution main reason for UT’s rise

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The play is called “TCU” and it is proof that basketball is indeed a team game.

Sure, the guy who made the shot gets his name in the headline, but so much goes into a buzzer-beater, including spot-on execution by multiple players.

It’s like a walk-off single in baseball. But before someone becomes a hero, someone else has to get on base, and someone else has to move him into scoring position.

Toledo ran “TCU” in the final 2.4 seconds Wednesday night at Savage Arena, and Juice Brown drained the jumper, beating Buffalo 67-65 and sparking students to rush the court.

When’s the last time that happened? Beats me.

“It was one battle, one game in a long journey,” coach Tod Kowalczyk said.

But the journey just keeps getting more interesting.

The Rockets are 14-2 and headed for Akron on Saturday for a late-morning meeting of the Mid-American Conference’s two preseason division favorites.

“In my opinion, over the last five, maybe seven years Akron has set the bar in our league,” T.K. said. “That’s where we want to get. We’re not there yet, but we have an opportunity now.

“The further along you get, there’s more at stake with every game. Because of beating Buffalo there’s more on the line Saturday. It’s fun. I firmly believe you earn the right to play in big games, and our guys are earning that.”

Veteran Akron coach Keith Dambrot would agree with that assessment.

“It’s sinking in now that Toledo’s one of the teams to beat,” he said. “For us, it’s always been Ohio or Kent … we realize the Toledos and Eastern Michigans, those are good teams.”

The Rockets sure earned the right. Everybody will remember the way it ended, but first UT had to use improved defense in the second half to fight back from an early 13-point deficit.

But on to the finish.

Tie game, 2.4 seconds left, a Rocket timeout, an encyclopedia of plays from which to choose. Kowalczyk went with “TCU.”

“My friend Jim Christian, the coach at Ohio, was at TCU a few years back and lost a game when somebody ran this play against him,” Kowalczyk said. “He gave it to me, and it has been good to us.”

UT has run it before, but it figured to be a good choice with a new coach, Bobby Hurley, on the Buffalo bench.

Senior Matt Smith was inserted for J.D. Weatherspoon because Smith has the best long-passing arm. He ran the baseline, shaking the inbounds defender, then put a baseball-style pass of about 70 feet right on the money for Nathan Boothe, who was running left to right toward the sideline. He passed back across his body to Juice, who took one step over the 3-point line and let it fly.

But there’s more. Boothe was wide open to take Smith’s pass because of Jordan Lauf’s screen. And Brown was free for Boothe’s pass because Rian Pearson picked off the Buffalo defender trailing Juice up court. The shot was contested, but just about nothing else was because five guys did their jobs perfectly.

“That’s the first thing I said in the locker room, that it was perfect execution by five players,” Kowalczyk said.

Before that, the students rushed the floor and had Brown up on their shoulders.

It was about four shoulders short. “Coach called the right play,” said Brown, “and we all executed it well.”

There’s that word again.

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



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