DETROIT — Tod Kowalczyk brought his team to Calihan Hall this weekend to simulate the multi-day grind of bigger tournaments to come.
Along the way, his University of Toledo basketball team scored a victory that could leap off its resume once they reach that point of the season.
The Rockets continued their prolific execution on offense Friday in day one of the 2K Sports Classic, dispatching a quality Stony Brook team, 103-99, in front of about 200 fans that created an open-gym-like atmosphere.
UT (4-0) has two wins — this one and one on the road at Boston College — that beef up its postseason profile in a year in which an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament could be a possibility. Stony Brook, coming off a 25-win season, has won three of the past four America East regular season titles.
“We have a little slogan: You never know,” Kowalczyk said. “You never know who’s watching. You never know who’s evaluating you. You never know what possession’s going to win a game or lose a game. And you don’t know what games are going to help a season.”
Up next is a 5:30 p.m. matchup today with host Detroit. UT will head home after a 1:30 p.m. tip-off Sunday with Florida Atlantic.
All five Rocket starters scored in double figures to maintain their season averages above 10 points. Julius Brown continued the blistering start to his junior season with 23 points, three coming on a buzzer-beater before halftime from several feet beyond NBA range. It marked the second time this week Toledo nailed a 3-pointer in transition to beat the halftime clock. Rian Pearson did it in Monday’s 79-69 home triumph over Florida A&M.
Whether it’s a buzzer-beater, a pull-up jumper, or a putback off the glass, the Rockets are hitting just about everything coming off their finger tips. This latest scoring barrage marked the first time in about 10 years — Dec. 22, 2003 to be precise in a 103-66 win versus Wright State — Toledo reached triple digits against a Division I opponent.
Pearson scored 15 points, as did Nathan Boothe, who turned a poor game early into a noteworthy showing once he checked into the game with eight minutes to go. Sitting much of the half with four fouls, Boothe asserted himself with six straight points.
A nifty baseline drive for an up-and-under against preseason all-America East center Jameel Warney widened the lead to 92-83 with 3:17 to go.
Boothe, who scored 13 of his 15 points after halftime, sank two free throws with two seconds left for a four-point advantage.
“Coaches were just telling me relax, it’s your time to finish it,” said Boothe, who logged 21 minutes.
The Rockets led the entire second half and for all but a few short spurts in the first half. Yet there was never room to breathe because of the deadly long-distance shooting by Stony Brook guard Anthony Jackson. Jackson (36 points) made six of his seven 3-pointers in the final 6:39, including three within about 90 seconds to cut the deficit to 86-83 with 5:08 to go. Jackson hit his final 3 from very deep with 12 seconds left to go down 99-96.
“That last three, what could we have done besides tackle him?” Kowalczyk said, adding he waited too long by not assigning defensive specialist Jordan Lauf to Jackson until the final possession.
Stony Brook (3-2) shot 59 percent to Toledo’s 52. Rebounding — 34 to 26 in favor of the Rockets — made the biggest difference in the outcome. J.D. Weatherspoon’s seven boards led Toledo. Lauf had three offensive boards.
Veteran newcomers Weatherspoon (12 points) and Justin Drummond (10) continued their hot starts, and the Rockets shot better than 50 percent for the third time. Their season scoring average stands at 94.8 points.
“If you were a college basketball fan this had to be an unbelievable game to watch,” Kowalczyk said.
Few were in attendance to see it, but the result should resonate far come March.
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