There were 66 seconds left Sunday night in a tense struggle between a Kent State team giving its best shot and a Toledo squad that probably wasn’t at the top of its game but doesn’t have rolling over in its DNA.
The Rockets had clawed out of a hole, led by two points, and were coming out of a huddle with 5,611 people in Savage Arena gnawing on their fingernails.
Where would the ball go?
As Kent coach Rob Senderoff saw it, there were a lot of candidates for the Rockets.
There’s Rian Pearson, who Senderoff figures was the MAC’s preseason player of the year. There’s Juice Brown, who Senderoff called “the MVP of the league so far.” There’s J.D. Weatherspoon, who is just a load.
So Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk, of course, went to none of them.
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He drew up a play for Justin Drummond, who drove for a dunk and a three-point play that brought down the house and all but iced an 81-78 win that bumped Toledo to 17-2 overall and 5-1 in league play.
“We run a lot of late-game plays in practice, and that’s one of them,” Drummond said after leading UT scorers for the second straight game, this time with 15 points.
Drummond took the inbounds pass near the top of the key, just inside the 3-point arc. He faked a handoff to Brown, spun and blew off a defender, taking a circular angle to the basket. Kent’s Darren Goodson came across the paint to challenge him, they met about 12 inches above the rim, and Drummond jammed it while absorbing contact.
“The lane was open, and I finished,” he said.
And now another message has been delivered to opposing MAC coaches.
“One thing I’m always thinking about is spreading the wealth,” Kowalczyk said. “I want everybody to know that I trust any of them to make big plays. So, yeah, that one was designed for Justin Drummond.
“He made a great fake on the handoff, got his shoulder ahead of the guy guarding him, and made a great play.”
I am not suggesting that Drummond should be the fourth option. But he is one of four, maybe five, and when you get right down to it that just isn’t fair.
Michael Reghi was in the house Sunday night. A one-time Toledo TV sports anchor who long ago moved on to call national and regional play-by-play in several sports, he was behind the microphone for the most recent of several Rocket cable games already this season.
“I’ve been around this league for 25 years and, if you think back, the dominant teams were usually led by a future NBA player, a Gary Trent, a Dan Majerle, a Wally Szczerbiak just to name a few,” Reghi said. “There may or may not be somebody like that on the Toledo roster, I don’t know. But I can’t remember a team in all those years that is as deep and talented and as versatile offensively as this Toledo team.”
That’s a mouthful, but how can you argue with five starters who average in double figures?
Who do you target? Who do you stop?
Kent did its best to keep Brown and Pearson out of the lanes to the basket. The Flashes did a pretty good job of that.
But then Drummond found one and the game was won.
“They ran that play out of the timeout, and they executed it really well,” Kent’s Senderoff said. “We needed a stop for a last possession, but Drummond made a strong drive. He’s a very good player. They have a few of ’em. There’s a reason they’re 17-2.”
These Rockets have a lot of weapons and a lot of guys who can find a way on any given night. UT is now 7-0 in games decided by four points or less.
“It’s a pretty good win,” Drummond said. “It shows our team’s character that no matter how things are going we’re going to find a way to win.”
The guessing game is simply who will find it.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.