Hillsdale coach John Tharp remembers from years ago the preferred postgame beverage of his pal Tod Kowalczyk, and Tharp wanted one too.
“Grab me one,” Tharp told a University of Toledo staffer fetching Kowalczyk a diet soda.
Both coaches deserved something stronger Sunday after an exhibition game Toledo won in overtime 85-84 on a buzzer-beating baseline jumper by point guard Julius Brown.
Toledo, as many think it will, could go on to capture the Mid-American Conference title, win 20-plus games, and appear in the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than 30 years. But the record book will note the Rockets nearly lost to a Division II program at home to kick off that banner season.
These games may not count, but they do matter, and Toledo is left with some work to do six days before true games begin.
“Certainly far from panic because we got into a game with a good Division II team,” Kowalczyk said.
The narrow margin was the second unexpected outcome of the day. Toledo’s women in the first game of the doubleheader blasted defending D-II national champion Ashland 83-38. The Rockets, playing with just three available reserves, emphasized running on offense in their prelude to a perceived rebuilding campaign. Three players — Inma Zanoguera, Ana Capotosto, and Janice Monakana — scored in double figures, as three others — Brianna Jones, Lindsay Baker, and Elena de Alfredo — sat the bench nursing injuries not thought to be severe.
Hillsdale, which should have many good days in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, whipped up a formula almost potent enough to beat a disjointed Toledo squad still trying to mesh its talents.
The Chargers (17-10 in 2012-13) knocked down 14 3-pointers, speeding by the Rockets to create open shots all over the floor. Forward Tim Dezelski made his first eight 3s — capping each one by turning to his bench and raising three fingers — and finished with 29 points. It was not until late in the game — when Kowalczyk ordered small forwards Rian Pearson and Jordan Lauf onto the 6-6 Dezelski — that Toledo had a semblance of success stopping the opponent’s top player.
Dezelski had 16 points and nine boards in last week’s 69-60 exhibition loss to Valparaiso.
“If you don’t think No. 40 would play a ton of minutes on every MAC team you’re nuts,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s that good of a player.”
Kowalczyk added he was pleased with his team’s effort. Brown insisted the Rockets did not take their opponent lightly.
Dezelski missed his first 3 with 1:44 left in overtime, only for Hillsdale to corral the rebound and go up 84-80 on a deep heave by Derek Schell as the shot clock expired.
Toledo went 3 of 4 at the free-throw line from that point forward — two makes by Pearson, and a make and a miss by J.D. Weatherspoon. Hillsdale’s Brandon Pritzl missed both of his attempts with 6.9 seconds ago, keeping his team’s lead at one and ensuring Toledo could win with a two-point field goal.
Brown took the inbound pass at halfcourt from J.D. Weatherspoon, put his head down, and burrowed to the basket. He stopped along the right baseline and from five or six feet away threw up what Kowalczyk later called “kind of a bad shot” that went in as the clock ran out.
“All I had in my head was get to the basket, get fouled, or score the ball,” Brown said.
Brown had 21 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Pearson scored 18 points — including a couple of 3-pointers. Nathan Boothe had 14 points.
Hillsdale’s Pritzl (14 points) missed an open corner 3 that would have won the game in regulation.
Hillsdale, which today will visit Indiana for an exhibition, controlled the glass 36-32.
“These exhibition games for D-I teams when D-IIs and D-IIIs come in are hard,” Tharp said. “We don’t have anything to lose.”
UT women roll
It’s a new season with new players, but the quickness that Toledo used to dispatch an opponent looked familiar.
The Rockets jumped all over Ashland early and never let up before a few hundred fans expecting a tighter test.
Ashland, ranked No. 15 in the preseason D-II poll, trailed by 20 or more the entire second half. The Eagles appear to be in a rebuilding mode of their own after graduating their top two scorers from a team that won 37 of 38 games last season.
Toledo got 19 points from Zanoguera, 16 points and 11 rebounds from Capotosto, and 11 from Monakana.
Injuries made for an odd starting lineup as the 5-10 Capotosto battled for the jump-ball in a pseudo-center position. Wings Zanoguera and Stephanie Recker also spent time in the post creating what coach Tricia Cullop believes will be an advantage for her team when the season starts this weekend in the Glass City Tournament.
“The ability to be able to mix and match and pull kids in and out is going to be a nightmare defensively for other teams,” Cullop said.
Capotosto, who was stuck on the bench her first two seasons, has put on muscle to augment her transition to the post.
“I like the physicalness in the post,” she said. “I really enjoyed learning more about it.”
Jones, a center, will return soon from a stress fracture, according to Cullop.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.