They got just what they came for.
There were 8,495 fans on hand at Savage Hall last night for this season's first installment of the Bowling Green-Toledo basketball rivalry.
Every screen carried a little more crunch. Every rebound was a trophy of war. Every trip down the lane was a run through the gantlet .
“This is kind of what you want out of college basketball,” Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich said. “It was a hard-fought, pretty competitive basketball game. I just know we competed pretty hard, and I know they competed pretty hard.”
Toledo led throughout the first half but never had a chance to breathe. BG tied it in the first minute of the second half, and it went back and forth with Toledo leading by just one point with 18 seconds to play.
“We'd come down and hit a big shot, they'd come down and hit a big shot - it was just gut-wrenching.” UT guard Nick Moore said. “It was just back and forth all night.”
Bowling Green's last lead came with 1:58 to play when junior Len Matela scored inside for a 68-67 edge as the shot clock wound down to two seconds. Toledo's Greg Stempin hit a three-pointer 20 seconds later to put the Rockets on top to stay, but the slugfest lasted until the final horn.
“It's always a war,” Matela said. “We all know each other - we play in the same summer leagues - and it makes no matter who has the best record or what. We were fighting and they were fighting. This will always be a hard-fought game.”
A full hour before tip-off, Toledo coach Stan Joplin wasn't hunkered down in the UT locker room, engaging his assistants in a final strategy session. He was seated in the front row under the visitor's basket, studying the Falcon players as they warmed up.
Bowling Green (6-7, 2-2 MAC) might not have had the record to put a scare in the Rockets (12-3, 4-0), but there was plenty of reason for concern.
“It doesn't make any difference what your record is, when you play your rival you can get beat,” Joplin said. “It could have gone either way.”
It did not take long for the teams to establish that this would be another BG-UT blood-letting. Less than two minutes into the game, Bowling Green senior Trent Jackson got tied up with Toledo freshman Terry Reynolds under the Bowling Green basket and turned the ball over. As Jackson got up off the floor, Reynolds stepped by and bumped him.
After an exchange of words, Jackson got slapped with a technical foul. In the next couple of trips up and down the floor, the officials used the whistle on every bit of contact in an effort to diffuse things. But the intensity meter stayed high all night.
“They lead the MAC in like four offensive categories, so we knew we would have to play them tough,” Stempin said. “And we knew it would be a close game all of the way. Throw out all of the records. You can throw it all out in a rivalry game like this.”
Toledo attracted its best crowd of the season, by far, for its home date with the Falcons, and Joplin thought that might have made the difference.
“The crowd played a big part in the victory. I think we kind of fed off of their energy,” Joplin said.
Come Feb. 26, the Falcons and the Rockets will do it all over again at BG's Anderson Arena.