Dominique Buckley shoots between Western Michigan's Brandon Pokley, left, and Muhammed Conteh. The Rockets are 15-14 and tied for second in the MAC West with a 6-8 record.
University of Toledo point guard Julius Brown insists he didn't do any scoreboard watching Saturday afternoon in the hours leading up to his team's home game against Western Michigan.
Brown's coach, Tod Kowalczyk, made sure of it.
"Who did Eastern Michigan play today?" Kowalczyk asked Brown in the postgame news conference.
"I don't even know," Brown responded.
PHOTO GALLERY: Men's basketball: UT vs. Western Michigan
The Rockets controlled what they could control in their quest to win the Mid-American Conference West division, beating WMU 83-74 at Savage Arena to up their winning streak to four and leap into a tie for second place.
Brown converted both ends of a 1-and-1 situation with 16 seconds remaining to put away a Broncos squad that nearly erased a 12-point deficit with six minutes to go.
With the win, UT (15-14, 6-8) climbs into a second-place tie in the division with WMU. Eastern Michigan, which beat Ball State earlier in the day, holds a two-game lead and has secured at least a share of the title.
The Rockets' path to the title is clear. If they prevail Wednesday at three-win Northern Illinois and EMU loses that same night at Western Michigan, the Rockets will be able to secure a share of the championship on Saturday when EMU comes to Savage Arena.
"We're trying to hang a banner here at Savage Arena," said guard Rian Pearson, who scored 15 points. "That's all coach has been stressing to us. Keep pushing and pushing and try to get the No. 1 spot."
Kowalczyk believes his team played as close to a complete game as they have all season. Five players scored in double figures, led by Dominique Buckley's 16 points, and the Rockets turned the ball over just five times and only once in the second half. It culminated in their third revenge win against a West foe. WMU crushed UT by 18 points in January in Kalamazoo.
"I thought that was a very gutty performance by us tonight," Kowalczyk said. "I thought our players stepped up and really answered the bell. For 40 minutes we played hard, we played smart, and we played very good basketball."
The lone rough patch came on a 10-0 run by WMU that cut UT's lead to 72-71 with 2:48 to go. From there, Brown knocked down a jumper for his team's first points in almost four minutes, and Reese Holliday followed with a layup on UT's third put-back attempt of the possession.
Pearson swelled his team's advantage to six on a pair of free throws with 58 seconds left.
"We're so used to giving away wins [from earlier in the season], so when it gets closer and closer, under three minutes, we try to stay under control and get stops and rebounds," Pearson said.
Matt Smith (15 points) and Curtis Dennis (10) also scored in double figures for the Rockets, who have won five of six. Smith made a jumper as time expired after WMU declined to rebound his missed free throw.
UT looked to be on the wrong end of a mismatch early on when Broncos big man Matt Stainbrook overpowered Richard Wonnell in the paint to score his team's first 10 points. Stainbrook's impact wasn't felt much thereafter, as he registered his second foul and went to the bench midway through the half. In the second half, he logged just eight minutes.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.
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