Dominique Buckley jogged slowly up the court, sort of playing possum against a Bowling Green State University defense preoccupied with forming a zone.
The lone senior on the University of Toledo, Buckley was hoping to make a memory. His favorite shot on the floor. Against the rival. In a building brimming with excitement.
"I like to trail the play because it’s always open," Buckley said. All of the action’s going one way, and I come from behind everything and get an open shot."
Buckley swallowed a pass from Matt Smith, hoisted from NBA range, and drilled a basket that inflicted a sizable puncture in a streak he and his teammates will no longer have to address.
Toledo, for the first time since March, 2008, beat Bowling Green, and convincingly at that, 75-62. Buckley’s make made it an 11-point lead with 11 minutes to play, an advantage great enough that BG supporters among a crowd of 6,361 were resigned to the idea their team’s four-game streak was nearing an end.
"It felt good when it left my hand," said Buckley, who scored 20 points, one shy of his career high. "I was excited to get it. I was hoping I wasn’t too excited."
Buckley, who hit another 3 moments later, was one of four Rockets in double figures. Julius Brown and Rian Pearson, who rotated with freshman Josh Lemons in containing BG’s shifty point guard Jordon Crawford, finished with 14 points a piece. Nathan Boothe was steely in his first rivalry experience, scoring 10 points and holding firm defensive position on the block against powerful senior forward A’uston Calhoun.
Two sets of numbers scream above the others. Toledo, the Mid-American Conference’s top free-throw shooting team, made its first 18 from the line and finished 26 of 27. BG (7-12, 2-4), which was 7 of 10, did not head to the stripe until the clock read 11:11 of the second half.
"If you put them on the free throw line, they make their free throws," said BG coach Louis Orr, who fell to 5-2 against UT. "The difference, point-wise, came at the free-throw line."
The game’s other deciding factor centered on marquee players. Pearson, though just 2 of 10 from the field, was perfect on 10 attempts from the line and grabbed nine rebounds. Brown, who has sizzled in MAC play, stuck a pair of jumpers from the right wing to expand the lead to 61-49 with 4:09 to go. BG’s two 1000-point scorers weren’t as effective. Calhoun, who leads the MAC in minutes played, sat the final 10 minutes of the first half with two fouls. A Rocket destroyer — Calhoun had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the last two meetings — he finished with 13 points and four boards. Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said Matt Smith, who was assigned to Calhoun for much of the evening, had the best defensive game of his career.
Crawford scored 20 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there.
"One of the keys was to keep him out of the paint, which we think we did a decent job of," Brown said.
Toledo (7-10, 3-3), which snapped a three-game skid, will now embark on a league schedule considerably softer than the one it just faced. Gone are the Ohios and Akrons. Looming is a whole bunch of the MAC West.
"We knew we would have to make a turnaround at some point," Buckley said. "Why not this game against our rivals?"
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.