MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — The future of the University of Toledo men’s basketball program converged with the present, as two young men from Chicago suburbs collaborated to stimulate the imagination.
A dazzling display like Saturday’s, with sophomore point guard Julius Brown executing a brilliant two-man game with freshman center Nathan Boothe, could someday be a regular storyline.
Brown, last year’s freshman of the year in the Mid-American Conference, is at his best as a facilitator. Boothe, who is presenting a case to attain that same honor, showed in a 73-64 win over Central Michigan how effective he will be once he develops to a man from a boy.
The talents possessed by the two most important recruits in coach Tod Kowalczyk’s three years coalesced at McGuirk Arena, with the point guard finding the center on many second-half looks to turn a tie game into a comfortable decision. That combination is the biggest reason the Rockets (12-11, 8-4) were able to secure their fourth road win in the league and set up a showdown next week against Co-West leader Western Michigan.
Boothe, who was taller and stronger than any Chippewas player, scored 13 of his career-high 19 points in the second half. Brown dished out eight assists, and five of them to Boothe, whose athleticism, size, and touch makes him on good terms with any point guard.
“Nate is very good at running the floor,” said Brown who added 13 points and six rebounds. “We get the ball down very quick. I just tossed it up and I knew he would finish.”
Boothe, who topped his previous scoring mark by four points, said he is not concerned about freshman of the year chatter. His recent play — Boothe hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer this month to beat Miami — should elevate him into the picture. He drained a 3, his second of the year, to give his team a lead two minutes into the second half that it never relinquished. On the next trip down he escaped to the basket from half court, where Rian Pearson fed him a lob.
“I gave RP the head nod, and I just back doored and RP threw it,” said Boothe, who was 8-of-11 from the field.
Pearson totaled 18 points and 12 rebounds, topping 1000 points in his Toledo career, of which Kowalczyk called “remarkable” because he has yet to play two full seasons. Pearson, who played his freshman season at Green Bay, eclipsed 1000 total points in December. The MAC’s leading scorer, Pearson provided defensive resistance to the player nipping at him, CMU’s Kyle Randall. Randall, who also faced pressure from defensive specialist Josh Lemons, needed 17 shots to score 21 points.
The finest Boothe-Brown moment came with 11 minutes left, when Brown threw a lob from 30 feet. The pass was good, but Boothe had to collect it before scoring his 17th point. That pushed the lead to 10, and Boothe tied up a Chippewa at the other end to get possession.
“I think we did a great job of finding him,” Kowalczyk said. “They switched a lot of ball screens. We dove Nate to the post, and Juice did a great job of finding him. Nate did a great job of catching and finishing tonight.”
Boothe, who entered the game averaging 7.9 points, is not the favorite for freshman of the year. That distinction likely belongs to his high school teammate, Darius Paul, of Western Michigan. Paul got the better end of the first Gurnee, Ill. match up. Part Two is scheduled for Feb. 27, with each team first playing a non-conference BracketBusters game.
“They killed us at their place,” Boothe said of a 79-56 thrashing in January. “Everyone wants to come out and beat them and not get outtoughed by them. That’s going to pretty much determine who wins the West.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160.