There were rim-rocking dunks, tons of athleticism on display, and would you believe it, a victory for the University of Toledo men's basketball team.
The Rockets' home opener Saturday was a coming out party for a program that has undergone a complete transformation under second-year coach Tod Kowalczyk.
Fresh off back-to-back 4-28 seasons, when there were a lot more groans and frowns than "oohs" and "ahhs" at Savage Arena, UT rolled to an 82-67 win over Illinois-Chicago with a subdued -- and possibly stunned -- crowd of 4,093 on hand.
The Rockets improved to 4-1 and have matched their win total in each of the last two seasons in just five games.
"More so than any program that I've been a part of, particularly as a head coach, the start of our season was way more important," Kowalczyk said. "And it's because of the perception [of this team]. I think people are genuinely excited about the future of our program, but still cautiously excited. And rightfully so.
Sophomore guard Rian Pearson scored 17 of his career-high 27 points in the first half to lead UT, while freshman point guard Julius Brown added 17 points and four assists.
"It's very important. It's our first home win," Pearson said. "Plus the fans can get a little taste of [what's to come] the rest of the season."
The Rockets came out on fire at the outset, grabbing an 8-1 advantage and leading 22-5 at the 13:09 mark in the first half.
UT went into the break with a 45-25 lead after scoring more points in the first half than it did in the entirety of three contests last season.
"I really liked how we started the first 10 minutes of that game," Kowalczyk said. "I thought we had just tremendous intensity and ball pressure."
The Rockets shot 55 percent (16-of-29) in the first half, while committing just four turnovers. They also held Illinois-Chicago (2-3) to 29 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
"If we set the tone early, then we know what's in store for the second half," Pearson said.
The Rockets did allow Illinois-Chicago to rally late, with the Flames cutting the deficit to as few as 12 with 41 seconds to play.
"I thought our ability to handle success was very poor," Kowalczyk said. "We got giddy instead of getting serious and getting down to business."
UT also shot 58 percent (26-of-45) from the free-throw line after entering the contest at 85 percent.
Those are gripes for another day.
"I think this team has a chance to be good," Kowalczyk said. "We're far from where we want to be, but I think we have a chance."
NOTES: Toledo transfer Hayden Humes led Illinois-Chicago with 11 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back at Savage Arena. ... UT's 4-1 record is its best start since winning its first five contests during the 2003-04 season.
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @ZachSilka.41.58258 -71.5036
Toledo men's basketball off to best start since 2003-04 season.