BOWLING GREEN — It was another punch in the gut.
It was a gift from the basketball gods.
In this case, “it” was a baseline jumper by Rian Pearson with just 3.2 seconds left that gave the University of Toledo men’s basketball team a 60-58 victory against Bowling Green State University on Thursday night.
No matter which side any person in the crowd of 3,182 at the Stroh Center favored, both could agree that the contest was one of the most entertaining Mid-American Conference games a fan could want.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos of the game
The Rockets dominated the first half in building a 39-23 lead. But the Falcons roared back, cutting the deficit by the midpoint of the second half and setting up a thrilling finish.
And the final dagger came from Pearson, who took a pass from Justin Drummond and nailed a 12-foot jumper from the left baseline just in the final seconds.
“I was just ready to shoot the ball,” Pearson said of his game-winning shot. “I got into a good stance, and ’Drum’ made a good pass.
“Originally the play was supposed to go to [Julius Brown], but Drummond took it upon himself to make a play.”
It nearly wasn’t a game-winner, though, as the Falcons managed to get the ball down the floor quickly, and Jehvon Clarke’s 3-point attempt from 35 feet rolled off the iron.
Anthony Henderson finished with 15 points to lead the Falcons, who fell to 11-15 overall and 5-8 in the MAC. Cameron Black scored 14 points and Richaun Holmes 13 for BG as the Falcons suffered their third loss by two points or less in the last four games.
Brown finished with 21 points to lead Toledo (22-4, 10-3 MAC), which held on to its share of the top spot in the league standings. Pearson added 10 for UT, which won its third straight against the Falcons and their first in Bowling Green since 2003.
Both teams pounded it inside early, but the Rockets had much more success offensively. Toledo took early leads of 6-2 and 12-4 in the first five minutes of the half, then used a seven-point run to build its advantage to 30-13 with 5 minutes, 42 seconds to play until halftime.
Bowling Green responded with six straight points, but the Rockets still held a commanding 39-23 halftime lead.
The problem for the Falcons was poor shooting as BG made just three of its first 18 shots from the field (16.7 percent) and finished the first half 8 for 34 from the field (23.5 percent).
The Falcons compounded their first-half scoring troubles by making just 1 of 7 3-pointers.
Worse, Bowling Green shot more free throws in the first half (10) than it did in 40 minutes of the first meeting (eight), but made fewer (six on Thursday, seven in the first contest).
Meanwhile, Toledo connected on 15 of 33 shots from the floor (45.5 percent), scoring 20 of its 39 first-half points in the paint.
“I thought our intensity was the key [in the first half],” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “We guarded them well, we turned them over. I thought we played well.”
But in the second half, it was the Falcons who caught fire and Toledo that struggled with turnovers. Brown hit a 3-pointer for the first points of the second half, but BG held the Rockets without a field goal for 8:49 to make things interesting.
“We played our hearts out in the second half,” Black said. “We focused on getting stops. We wanted to turn up the pressure and get in the passing lanes.
“And that was effective for us.”
Henderson’s 3-pointer from the left corner tied the game at 56-56 with 2:45 left, and from there the lead swung back and forth. BG’s Spencer Parker was fouled on a rebound with 11.5 seconds left, and he split two free throws to tie the game at 58 — and that set up Pearson’s heroics.
“From here on out, it’s championship games,” Pearson said. “It’s win or go home, so this was a big win for us.”
NOTES: The crowd of 3,182 at the Stroh Center was the fourth-largest men’s crowd in the three-year-old building’s history. ... Bowling Green guard Zack Denny was not in uniform for the contest, missing his ninth straight game. … Holmes finished with two blocks to give him 73 this season, tying the school record he set last season.