Eastern Michigan's Michael Ross didn't call glass when he launched a 24-foot shot from behind the top of the 3-point arc that banked in with two seconds remaining against the University of Toledo last night at Savage Hall.
Nevertheless, the extra-long jump shot by the Eagles' 5-10 point guard proved to be the difference in a 76-73 victory over the Rockets, who dropped their third straight and fifth in their last six outings.
Ross' game-winning basket came only seconds after UT's Anton Currie made a layup to tie the score at 73 with eight seconds left. The Eagles responded by quickly inbounding the ball and allowed Ross to do the rest in the Mid-American Conference West Division tilt.
“Like I told [Ross], I would have liked a little better shot than the one he took, but it was a great play,” EMU coach Jim Boone said. “That's the kind of play you have to have to win on the road.”
But there were plenty of other reasons why the Eagles (12-11, 6-8 MAC) eventually came out on top of the Rockets (10-14, 4-10 MAC) for the second time this season to sweep the series.
“We missed free throws, we missed layups, we turned the ball over,” UT coach Stan Joplin explained. “It's really mind-boggling. In the second half we didn't play much defense.
“The last play [by Ross] was indicative of how a lot of our games have gone for us.”
UT's Keith Triplett poured in a game-high 24 points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds. He was the Rockets' lone bright spot.
“Keith Triplett stroked the ball well tonight; he was kind of like the Lone Ranger out there,” Joplin said.
Nick Moore was the only other Rocket to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points. However, the 3-for-11 shooting effort by Moore included missing 5 of 6 3-point attempts.
“I just did a poor job of shooting the ball,” Moore said. “I had open looks and should have knocked them down.”
Ross, who finished with 10 points, was one of five Eagles to score in double figures. John Bowler and Steve Pettyjohn led EMU with 14 points apiece while Ryan Prillman finished with 13 and JaQuan Hart 12.
Bowler became a major defensive dilemma for the Rockets during the last five minutes of the game. After scoring only one basket during the first half, the Eagles' 6-8 freshman became EMU's primary go-to guy down the stretch. He scored five of the Eagles' last seven baskets in the game. All the shots came within point-blank range, including a two-hand dunk that gave EMU a 67-65 lead with 3:08 remaining.
The Rockets didn't have an answer for Bowler, who finished the game 7-for-8 from the field.
“We went over the scouting report [on Bowler] and they were going for his best move every time,” Joplin said. “So that's a lack of concentration.”
Yet the Rockets still were in position down the stretch to put an end to their most recent losing streak.
The game was delayed for nearly 10 minutes in the first half after one of UT's cheerleaders fell hard to the floor while the group was performing a routine. She was taken to Toledo Hospital for precautionary reasons. It was reported she was not seriously injured.
At the time of the incident the Eagles were leading 15-6 with 14:56 to play in the half. The Eagles believe the stoppage of play affected them the rest of the way. EMU's lead dwindled once play resumed and the Eagles went into halftime with a 29-26 edge.
“Unfortunately for us, I think the time we spent on the bench seemed to hurt us and helped Toledo,” Boone said. “We just never seemed to gain any more momentum after that point.”
Not until Ross' final basket.
Joplin hinted that changes with the lineup could come to pass to address a lack of scoring and inconsistency defensively in the front court. Phil Alexander, a 6-3 forward who is also a member of the football team, could end up seeing more minutes. Joplin said Alexander is presently the team's “best inside player” after he finished with five points and six rebounds against the Eagles.
The Rockets will play Tuesday at Buffalo.