It was billed as a contrast between the Mid-American Conference’s top offense and its top defense.
Wednesday’s rivalry game at Savage Arena was quickly recast as a battle of benches, one Bowling Green State University was ill equipped to play.
The Falcons fell into an 11-point hole out of the gate, lost their best player to early foul trouble, and never caught up to the University of Toledo in the Rockets’ 83-76 win.
Six times in the second half BG whittled what once was a deficit of 16 points down to one-possession. Toledo withstood each threat with a bucket, with all but one coming at the 3-point line or on a three-point play.
“Our guys are so confident in those situations,” coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos of the game.
Kowalczyk has a luxury his counterpart, BG’s Louis Orr, does not. Namely, a deep and talented bench. Four Falcons played at least 35 minutes, and another, Richaun Holmes, probably would have joined them had he not sat much of the first half after incurring two fouls in the first two minutes.
With the MAC’s leading shot blocker confined to the bench, Toledo (19-3, 7-2) ran out to leads of 11-0 and 26-10.
Sensing a wounded opponent, Kowalczyk went on the attack, sending three and four players to the scorer’s table to wear at a BG second unit consisting mostly of one guy. Kowalczyk’s bench logged 54 minutes and 18 points. Orr’s bench countered with 23 and two.
“Anytime you start off sluggish in the first few minutes of the game and you play catch-up you exert a lot of energy,” BG’s Jehvon Clarke said.
Clarke and teammate Anthony Henderson registered near identical stat lines, both totaling 23 points and seven rebounds. Clarke had eight assists, two more than the Start graduate Henderson.
Spencer Parker added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Falcons, who’ve dropped the last two meetings in this rivalry. Holmes, whom Kowalczyk this week called an All-MAC player, was scoreless for the first 30 minutes. His frustration boiled over early in the second half when Holmes smacked his chair leaving the court after being whistled for traveling. He finished with six points, four boards, and four fouls.
“We thought he was going to get it going tonight, but our bigs did a good job on him,” Toledo’s Julius Brown said.
Brown (10 points, eight rebounds) conducted an offensive output that — despite 37 percent shooting — obliterated BG’s previous MAC-high points allowed of 70.
Justin Drummond topped UT with 22 points, scoring 10 of his 22 at the free-throw line, and had seven rebounds and four assists. Rian Pearson, who scored 16 points to move into 10th all-time in program history helped out around the glass, as did J.D. Weatherspoon (12 points, 13 rebounds).
“The difference was the free-throw line,” Orr said. “We know they’re a good free-throw shooting team. We put them on the line and the refs called the fouls they called.”
UT attempted 27 more free throws than BG, connecting on 29 of 35. Drummond was 10 of 11.
BG (10-12, 4-5) never got over the hump in the second half despite needing just five minutes to trim an 11-point halftime deficit to two. Drummond responded to one rally with a three-point play, and Brown kept the Falcons at bay another time with a 3.
Later, Matt Smith drained a 3 after a Clarke run out cut UT’s lead to 55-54.
After Holmes got in the scoring column with nine minutes, 18 seconds left, UT mustered a four-point possession. Nathan Boothe missed the second of two free throws, and the ball eventually made its way to Drummond in the corner.
Drummond scored two more buckets following BG climbing to within three or two points.
“We know when we have to make plays,” Drummond said. “We have great playmakers and we make plays when needed.”