A crowd of about 5,000 showed up at Savage Hall last night for the University of Toledo's home opener, in general, and to see freshman Terry Reynolds, in particular.
They expected to watch the newcomer - who averaged 23 points during UT's season-opening, three-game sweep of a tournament in Kansas City - shoot and score. It didn't happen.
Instead, it was a pass by Reynolds that brought down the house as the Rockets ran their record to 4-0 with a 78-72 victory over the University of Detroit.
With UT clinging to a 43-41 lead after erasing a five-point halftime deficit, Reynolds was running in transition when he lofted a lob pass from a step inside the halfcourt line that Greg Stempin caught just off the rim for a dunk that ignited the Rockets.
Albert Wilson followed with two big plays that resulted in baskets by Nick Moore and, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, Toledo had a 53-43 lead.
“We were down five at the half and came out strong, but Detroit was still hanging around,” said Stempin, who led UT with 21 points and chipped in with eight rebounds. “So that play off Terry's pass was a shot in the arm. It got the defense fired up; we were able to take the ball to the basket and got some easy shots.”
The visiting Titans (3-2) didn't go without a fight - Willie Green saw to that with 14 second-half points - but Stempin scored on back-to-back possessions with under 6:00 to play, allowing UT to maintain a cushion until Robierre Cullars came through with a defensive play that closed out Detroit's comeback hopes.
UD's Rashad Phillips, a 5-10 guard who put on a shooting clinic during an incredible four-minute stretch of the first half, tried a deep 3-point shot with under 30 seconds to play. Cullars blocked it, then got the ball off a quick dish from Stempin for a breakaway slam that sealed the outcome.
“We came out of the timeout and I was supposed to have Phillips and, all of a sudden, I realized I was guarding the wrong man,” Cullars said. “So I just sort of flew at him, tried to contest the shot and it went right into my hand.”
Cullars and Rory Jones (three steals) did a good job defending Phillips, who went off on the shorter Reynolds for three 3-pointers and 13 points between the 11:22 and 7:22 marks of the first half.
“Phillips is a great player and he got hot,” Cullars said. “We just gave him a different look.”
Phillips finished with a game-high 26 points, but only 11 of them came in the second half and he didn't make another trey until the final 30 seconds of play.
“We just put some taller guys on Phillips and tried to make him work a little,” said UT coach Stan Joplin. “Robierre was Robierre. He dogged him a little. And I thought Rory did a nice job, too, and that settled us down on defense.”
Toledo's offense in the second half also played a role in turning the tide. After shooting 33 per cent in the first half, the Rockets made 16 of 29 (.552) attempts during the final 20 minutes.
“We were impatient and shot too quickly and from too far,” Joplin said of his team's early lack of execution. “Getting Greg to take the ball to the basket was a big part of it because sometimes he's content taking the jump shot. When he posts up and goes to the basket he can get seven or eight points a night from the free throw line.''
The Rockets, who struggled from the line in Kansas City - 60 of 104, .577 - found the range last night, making 20 of 26 attempts and outscoring the Titans 20-5, numbers that UD coach Perry Watson said “can't be justified.”
Cullars finished with 18 points for the Rockets, who scored 23 points off Titan turnovers, while center Craig Rodgers added 13 points and 9 rebounds.
The University of Toledo finds itself in some elite company when it comes to combined football and men's basketball success.
According to a computer, that is.
Jeff Sagarin, whose computer rankings in football and basketball appear weekly in USA Today, also has a combined computer rating for football and basketball.
And Toledo ranks 10th in the country on that list.
The Rocket football team is rated 20th and the basketball team is 30th, according to Sagarin, and the total of 50 is 10th-best in the country.
Florida is No. 1 with 13 points - eighth in football and fifth in basketball. The Gators are followed by Oklahoma, 2-15-17; Notre Dame, 2-15-17; Texas, 10-25-35; Stanford, 35-2-37; Arizona, 32-6-38; Tennessee, 27-14-41; Purdue, 19-23-42; Syracuse, 38-7-45, and Toledo, 20-30-50.