Toledo guard Rian Pearson drives the lane under pressure from multiple Ball State defenders during the first half of Saturday's home game. Pearson scored 20 points.
With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, the Toledo men’s basketball team pulled itself within striking distance of Ball State. Then came a stoppage in play, which officials used to review a play a few moments earlier in which Cardinals forward Matt Kamieniecki ran through a screen and appeared to make contact with Toledo guard Reese Holliday.
Coming out of the lengthy review after Dominique Buckley’s 3-pointer for Toledo, it would have seemed likely that the Rockets had the momentum they needed to gain control of a pivotal contest.
Instead, Ball State took control of the game and used a double-digit run in the game’s final minutes to put away an 86-72 win over the Rockets on Saturday at Savage Arena.
“They kept hitting shots, kept hitting plays and rebounding,” said Toledo guard Rian Pearson, who led the Rockets with 20 points. “They outrebounded us, and that’s when we let it slip away.”
The loss cost the Rockets a shot at pulling into a tie for first place in the Mid-American Conference’s West Division. Two games remain in Toledo’s regular season schedule: Tuesday at home against Northern Illinois and Saturday at Eastern Michigan.
“The MAC West Championship,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said, when asked what his team’s focus would be in the final week of the regular season. “There’s two games to play. We’re one game out.”
Saturday at Savage Arena, the Rockets (13-13, 8-6) got outrebounded 20-11 in the first half — including 13 defensive rebounds for the Cardinals — and Toledo struggled to defend against Jauwan Scaife, Ball State’s leading scorer.
“He was a tough guard for us,” Kowalczyk said of Scaife, who had a game-high 28 points, including 17 in the second half. “He’s not the player of the year in this league. There’s no question he’s not. But there’s no one playing better than him right now, down the stretch. He’s playing tremendous basketball.”
The Cardinals erased Toledo’s 17-10 lead and forced the Rockets to call a timeout at 10:08 after Chris Bond gave Ball State a 23-19 lead.
The Rockets tied the game at 29-all with 5:14 left in the first half on Matt Smith’s 3-pointer, then Nathan Booth helped Toledo pull within one (39-38) with 1:12 left before Marcus Posley’s 3-pointer just seconds later helped Ball State take a 42-38 halftime lead
“The last 15 minutes of the first half, we were very tenacious, we were very resilient, we were able to make some plays on defense,” Cardinals coach Billy Taylor said. “A lot of activity forced turnovers and got us out in transition, which got us some easy points.”
Ball State broke a 50-all tie six minutes into the second half on Jesse Berry’s free throw, part of a 15-0 run for the Cardinals that allowed them to take a 63-50 lead. In that stretch of nearly five minutes, the Rockets went 0 for 6 from the floor and committed two turnovers.
After Toledo pulled within two (71-69) on Buckley’s 3-pointer with 5:02 left — and the official review of what Kowalczyk called “a dirty play” — BSU stretched its lead back to double-digits after a media timeout and closed the game on a 15-3 run.
“I really thought that we were going to keep it going and take the lead and then hopefully hold them off,” said Toledo forward Matt Smith, who scored 16 points. “But we let them get going and they started making tough shots.
“They made plays. They made all kinds of plays.”
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