BOWLING GREEN - While it's probably too early to say that tonight's Toledo-Bowling Green men's basketball game is a must-win contest - it is still January, after all - it is safe to say the loser will be in a world of hurt.
A sellout crowd at Anderson Arena, as well as a Fox Ohio television audience, will watch two teams needing a victory that will help them keep pace with Mid-American Conference West Division leader Western Michigan.
The Broncos are 6-0 heading into a home game against Ball State this afternoon. The Falcons are next in the West at 4-2, while Toledo is tied with Ball State for third at 3-2.
That means the loser of tonight's game could fall three games behind the Broncos in the loss column, not an insurmountable deficit, but far from an easy one to make up.
"This is a huge game - it always is a huge game between us and Toledo," said BG senior John Reimold. "On top of that, it's a game that both teams absolutely need to win in terms of our place in the league. It's going to be crazy."
Both teams come into the contest on streaks, but Toledo's is a two-game winning streak while the Falcons have lost their last two.
Recently the Rockets have had the advantage in the series, winning seven of the last nine meetings. At the same time the home team has won five of the last six meetings, so Toledo coach Stan Joplin knows it won't be easy tonight at Anderson Arena.
"Bowling Green is hard to beat at home and we're going to have to play extremely well if we're going to be successful," Joplin said. "They really feed off their crowd, and hopefully we can have some carryover from our Marshall game," an 83-74 Rocket victory last Saturday.
"After winning our first road game, I think the players will feel good about themselves and have some confidence about playing well on the road."
Joplin will make a game-time decision on whether to play 6-10 center Allen Pinson, who has missed the last two games with a concussion.
Bowling Green is 6-1 at home this season, with its only loss in Anderson Arena to Western Michigan last Saturday, 70-61. The Falcons are led in scoring by Josh Almanson's 18.5 points per game, followed by Reimold at 16.8 and Steven Wright at 12.6.
Toledo has two players averaging in double figures, Keith Triplett at 16.1 and Florentino Valencia, at 10.0.
Last year the home teams won a pair of three-point games, with hometown players playing crucial roles.
At Savage Hall, Triplett, the Bowsher High graduate, scored 28 points in carrying the Rockets to an 83-80 victory. At Anderson Arena, Bowling Green native Almanson's basket and free throw in the final moments of overtime lifted the Falcons to a 79-76 win.
"It's a big game, because the schools are 20 minutes away from each other and neither wants to lose to a person 20 minutes up the road," Almanson said.
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