The streak is over.
The University of Toledo men's basketball team ended a school-record 19-game skid dating to Dec. 10 with a 45-42 victory over Ball State last night at Savage Arena.
“Man, it feels so good,” said UT freshman guard Malcolm Griffin, who finished with eight points. “We've been on a long streak, but I had a feeling tonight.”
Before the game, Griffin told his teammates he “felt a victory” over the Cardinals, and sure enough his vision came to pass – but just barely.
The Rockets (4-26, 1-14 Mid-American Conference) led by as many as 18 points after a 3-pointer from junior forward Justin Anyijong (13 points) with 16:43 to play before Ball State began whittling away at the deficit in front of an announced crowd of 3,892.
By the 47.2 second mark, it was a one-possession game after freshman guard Jauwon Scaife's 3-pointer cut UT's lead to 45-42.
But that's how the scoreboard continued to read after Anyijong swatted away sophomore guard Randy Davis' layup attempt, Scaife tossed up an airball, and a 3-point attempt from the right arc from freshman guard Myron Green, Jr., at the buzzer was long and bounded off the backboard.
“We were up 18, but I knew it wouldn't be an 18-point blowout at that point,” UT coach Gene Cross said. “You want to make sure your kids understand how they have to keep fighting and to sustain that effort to get a victory. I thought that our defensive effort and our defensive frame of mind were terrific.”
The last time the Rockets allowed an opponent to score 42 points or less was a 54-42 win over Buffalo on Feb. 20, 2002.
UT held the Cardinals to a 15.8 percent (3-of-19) shooting effort in the first half and 26.7 percent mark in the game, which is the lowest by a Division I opponent since Ohio shot 29.2 percent in a 66-53 Rocket victory on Jan. 31, 2001.
“We knew that Scaife and Davis had been red-hot coming into this game,” Cross said. “Then we wanted to double-team [Jerrod] Jones and try to take him away. If you take those three away, we felt that we had an opportunity to win.”
Davis, Scaife, and Jones combined to score 38 of the Cardinals' 42 points.
Ball State (15-13, 8-7) entered in sole possession of first place in the MAC West Division standing and now falls into a three-way tie for first place with Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan.
“I thought they did a really nice job,” Ball State coach Billy Taylor said of the Rockets. “I give their kids a lot of credit. They made tough shots, they made tough plays. They were hungry. It's their last home game of the season, and they played with great passion.”
Griffin played an especially key role down the stretch to turn his dream into reality, hitting a fastbreak lay-up and assisting on another after Ball State had cut the Rockets' lead to six with 4:28 remaining.
But what gave Griffin the feeling UT could do it, when many believed it would go into next season with the burden of a prolonged losing streak.
“We were real poised in shootaround today and we were prepared all day, so I kind of figured we were going to get this victory,” Griffin said. “I'm glad we got it.”
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