Here’s an interesting statistic, one that no other Mid-American Conference men’s basketball team can come close to claiming.
The University of Toledo has made more free throws this season than its opponents have attempted.
If you’re looking for reasons that UT is 19-3 after Wednesday night’s 83-76 win over rival Bowling Green, that’s as good a place as any to start.
The Falcons were 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. Toledo was 29 of 35.
The Rockets have made 456 free throws this season. Their opponents have attempted 414.
A lot of stats are meaningless. This one is significant especially when considering UT is 7-0 in games decided by four points or less.
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BG didn’t come that close on this occasion, but the Falcons might well have had the Rockets not made 20 of 23 from the line in the second half, including their last 10 points of the game.
So, Justin Drummond, you made 10 of 11 en route to a team-high 22 points. How does your team do this virtually night after night?
“We have a lot of athletic guards and the coaches tell us not to settle [for perimeter shots],” Drummond said. “We attack the basket and either make shots or get fouled. That’s a big part of our game.”
Added point guard Juice Brown, “We’re always aggressive with the ball.”
There are two ends of the floor, of course, and such a discrepancy is built at both ends.
“Not fouling is part of our defensive emphasis,” said UT coach Tod Kowalczyk. “It’s being in good position. Look at the first half, we had fouls to give.”
What he meant by that was that UT committed only five personal fouls; thus BG never got into the bonus from the line.
“Offensively, that’s just how we play,” TK added. “We’re not a great 3-point shooting team. Guys like [Jonathan] Williams and Matt Smith can come off the bench and catch fire, but we don’t have any real dead-eye 3-point shooters in our starting lineup.
“What we have are athletic guys who can slash to the basket and guys who pass well, so we’re always attacking.”
How big is it? For example, BG outscored the Rockets 69-54 on points off field goals.
“The difference was at the free-throw line,” BG coach Louis Orr said. “We knew coming in they’re a good [free throw] shooting team. The refs called what they called … I know some of the discrepancy came at the end, but we hurt ourselves all night putting them on the line.”
How do the Rockets get there so often?
“The present a tough combination,” Orr said. “They have five guys averaging in double figures and those five guys are all capable of scoring in different ways. They’re not a big 3-point team, but they play off the bounce and run good offense. You have to guard every position. It’s hard.
“The difference in the game was the free-throw line and when you put Toledo there they make them. We shot well, too, but we didn’t shoot enough.”
This UT-BG game had a little delayed Super Bowl match-up to it. Like Seattle vs. Denver in the NFL, this was the MAC’s best defensive team (BG) against the No. 1 offense. Unlike the Super Bowl, offense won this time.
UT hit its season scoring average almost dead on the nose — it was 83.5 points entering the game — and the Rockets became the first MAC opponent to score more than 70 points against BG. The Falcons came in having allowed 63.3 points per game.
BG was better than usual offensively — guards Jehvon Clarke and Anthony Henderson, the Start High product, both lit it up from the perimeter with 23 points apiece — but as Orr said, the Falcons’ best bet was “to try to play the game on our terms.”
That defensive approach flew out the window early when UT jumped to leads of 11-0 and 26-10.
Kowalczyk called it a “tremendous start with great energy.”
It didn’t last. But when the Rockets started the inevitable parade to the free-throw line they were home free.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.